Is This Potential Air India Ad For New York Too Offensive?

Sex sells, this has been known since the dawn of modern advertising.   Airlines and travel companies use images of attractive people on beaches or ski slopes in their marketing, display images of attractive cabin crew on billboards and some airlines are racier then others … but few cross the line. The airlines that do cross the line of catchy to tasteless are those who play on shock value, such as Ireland’s Ryanair and Spirit Airlines in the United States … but Air India, India’s conservative national flag carrier’s new ad campaign for the New York – Mumbai route may push the boundaries farther than even Ryanair and Spirit Airlines.


Over the past few years Air India has struggled in the U.S. market, facing new competitors. New York, once a strong hold for the airline now faces competition from United Airlines, Jet Airways, Delta (via Amsterdam) and other carriers, offering more connections, alliance partners and better marketing. The cash strapped Air India has been seeking ways to win back its once lucrative routes and regain control of their brand image.   Brand image is important for all companies and especially important for airlines.


Air India’s image has been tarnished for number of reasons over the years, but the latest released potential advertising campaign for the New York market misses the mark. The advertisement depicts a surprised black man seemingly about to engage in oral sex with a white woman, as an angry Indian lady, with an Air India baggage tag on her bag, is poised to walk out. The tag line of the ad reads “Daily Direct Flights Between New York and Mumbai. Now reach home faster.” 


It is unclear if the advertisement is being released, however a source close to Air India’s North American marketing team has stated this ad was created by a creative firm working with Air India, using stock imagery, and submitted to the airline.  Rohit Rao, of AeroBlogger, was informed that the ad was presented to Air India and the executives were horrified by, however the airline states, “the possibility that the advertisement may be used in the future cannot be ruled out.”


Catchy ads capture our attention, sexually suggestive ads keep our attention, but offensive ads tend to tarnish brand image … and an airline with a tarnished brand image, desperately seeking to be seen as a top tier travel experience in the skies does not need to be associated with any of the messages conveyed in this advertising for Air India.


Below is the racy and offensive Air India ad.


Happy Flying!





  1. Classy! Me thinks tactless ploys like this are indicative of a failing airline. Air India certainly has been sliding down a slippery slope. Haven’t we seen similar things in other industries? Does this really build ridership?

  2. Guys, before you judge Air India, keep in mind that they have SHOT THIS AD DOWN. It was a proposal, not something that’s gonna see the light of day any time soon.

    As for the quote “the possibility that the advertisement may be used in the future cannot be ruled out.” That’s a standard Indian disclaimer that was given to me so that in the extremely remote possibility that Air India actually uses this advertisement, my source won’t have given me incorrect information.

    The ad is tasteless, yes. But Air India is not to blame for it.

  3. Rohit,

    Do I ever see Air India’s execs in India approving this ad? No. But the fact that the airline, at least its US marketing team, has shelved it and not canned it to me is surprising. This is the kind of thing a company would say “absolutely not” about, rather than “maybe.”

    I cannot fathom any advertising agency even presenting this to Air India given the airline’s very conservative approach to marketing and advertising.

    Happy Flying!


  4. As I explained to you by Tweet, this is the GOVERNMENT OF INDIA you are talking about. Nothing is ever dead. Never. It will sit gathering dust for the next century, but it will never die.

  5. And it’s not just the government. Indian culture involves dumping disclaimers everywhere. Nobody wants responsibility for anything… If this happened at Jet Airways or Kingfisher, I would still get a similar disclaimer from any source of mine. It’s just the way things are done.

  6. How the heck is this “racy” or “tasteless” ???

    There’s more suggestive and “skin exposing” adverts on billboards for shoes & skin care down here. Images on billboards that would have raised a furore 20 years ago are common & accepted as society’s values change.

    The “busting them in the act” meme is hardly new and has been used from comedy to drama with the only change being just how much of “in the act” is displayed/described. In the dim dark past, it was politely alluded to, then it became innuendo until these days it’s often shown/described in much more detail than this advert (one could say that the audience is losing their perception of subtlety & need things spelled out or they miss the reference 🙂

    At least this one may actually get a person to stop & consider the advert (for better or for worse) rather than just flipping over it & subconsciously consigning it to the “whatever” department.

  7. This is Air India. It’s a gov’t airline that is expected to adhere to the strictest codes of decency in Indian culture. This is very racy and tasteless for the airline.

    If this was Kingfisher, maybe not.

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