is this the worst advertising campaign of all time?

It’s no secret that many people are scared of flying. While most airlines would want to avoid acknowledging this fear, a 1967 ad campaign for Pacific Air Lines, which was supervised by comedian and ad consultant Stan Freberg, chose to embrace it. Newspapers and magazines ran full-page ads displaying the following message:

Hey there, you with the sweat on your palms! It’s about time an airline faced up to something—most people are scared witless about flying. Deep down inside, every time that big plane lifts off that runway, you wonder if this is it, right? You want to know something, fella? So does the pilot, deep down inside.

Needless to say, an advertisement that basically says pilots are scared of flying is extremely risky, and that may be an understatement. Executives at Pacific Air Lines objected to the ads when they were proposed, but the president of the company was pleased with the idea. Once the ads appeared in newspapers, many pilots became angry since they thought it just wasn’t true that they were scared of flying.

Pacific Air Lines had more to their campaign than just the ads, though. They also gave travelers items including a rabbit’s foot for good luck, a cuddling blanket, and a book titled The Power of Positive Thinking. It sure doesn’t seem very positive to suggest that pilots worry when their plane takes off and that people need a rabbit’s foot to get through a flight. In addition to the ridiculous items, when the plane landed, flight attendants were supposed to exclaim, “We made it! How about that?” If the campaign had continued, planes would’ve been painted the color of locomotives and whistles would have been installed on them to simulate the experience of being on a train. Pictures of telephone polls passing were planned to be projected in the cabin.

Not surprisingly, the campaign was a dismal failure. The company was already in financial trouble, which may have been why they were willing to run such a risky ad in the first place. Shortly after the ad campaign began, the president of Pacific resigned and the company became a part of West Coast Airlines. After the campaign was abandoned, the company attempted to sell the rabbit’s feet and cuddling blankets back to the distributors. I’m not sure if they were successful, but I doubt there’s much of a market for rabbit’s feet.

The information for this blog post came from a 1967 article in the St. Petersburg Times, now known as the Tampa Bay Times and a chapter in the book The Smile-High Club: Outrageous But True Air Travel Stories.