Royal Jordanian Puts Fear of Flying in a New and More Chilling Context

You think you feel unsafe on an airplane?

Headshot of Angela Natividad

Can you imagine what it’s like to be an Arab boarding an airplane?

With help from Ogilvy Jordan, Royal Jordanian is asking the question point-blank.

In the past, the airline has made a humorous point of using the result of the U.S. elections to attract more traffic, but its latest work is a more serious treatment from a perspective not often taken into account—the Arab who flies.

“I’m not afraid of flying,” the voiceover in the video begins. “I’m not afraid of the risk of it. I’m afraid I end up somewhere I don’t want to go. Afraid of being stuck in a place with people who look at me differently. I’m afraid of the what-ifs. What if something wrong happens and they don’t believe me…?”

Amid this troubled narrative, the camera pans over passengers in an airplane, catching the studied gazes that linger. These are looks you’ll remember if you’ve ever felt different or out of place, or if you’ve ever swum with sharks—the sense that, with one false move (or even without), a deceptively calm situation could become a feeding frenzy.

One of the great tragedies of living under fear of terrorism is its effect on how we treat one another. Fear for ourselves makes us forget that our abstract villains create unintended victims.

Last year featured a slew of headlines in which people were ethnically profiled as Arab and removed from airplanes, including a refugee college student, for talking on the phone, and an Ivy League economist, for writing in a scary language. (It was the universal language of math. Also, he was Italian.)

One American woman was so shocked at being asking to deplane with a friend, she wrote an op-ed decrying Trump’s use of “Islamophobia” to rise in politics, and listed a bevy of other examples.

“I’m not afraid of flying. But the people around me are afraid of me,” Royal Jordanian’s narrator continues. The camera settles on a clearly uncomfortable Arab man, squirming under the unabashed stare of an older woman. “People who are afraid discriminate. Those discriminated against—they’re even more afraid.”

As tension in the music rises, the ad concludes, “Say no to all forms of discrimination.”

“This ad is not done to reinforce stereotypes but to point out discrimination,” says Paul Shearer, group chief creative officer for Memac Ogilvy, which made the spot. “Just because you look Arabic doesn’t mean you are not afraid as well.”

Ironically, history provides ample examples of how discrimination has led societies to do heinous things that are easy to rebuke in retrospect—the rounding up (and eventual attempted genocide) of Jews in Europe being most resonant, but it’s also happened in recent American history, with Japanese Americans. (The jubilant memer and Star Trek veteran George Takei notably grew up in an internment camp.)

A new president’s efforts to ban travel from mostly Muslim countries, vilify immigrants and threaten sanctuary cities rings horribly familiar. It stirs a dangerous pot.

Shearer tells Adweek that Royal Jordanian wanted to both “tackle all forms of discrimination” and “reach out to the Western world to say ‘Don’t judge us by what others do.'” In this spirit, the film is stripped of the usual “plane porn” and loving shots of lavish amenities. It’s a hard focus on the tension and reproach that can be conveyed in a look.

“Jordan itself has always been a peaceful nation,” Shearer adds. “So as a national carrier, it was fitting for it to be the voice of reason.”

Client: Royal Jordanian

Production House – Dejavu Dubai
Executive Producer – Manasvi Gosalia
Producer – Giuliano Doman
Director – Omar Hilal
DOP – Quim Miguel
Editor – Ahmed Hafez
Music – Sary Hany

Ogilvy Jordan
Writers – Paul Shearer, Hadi Alaeddin
Arabic copy – Lama hannoun, Lana cattan
AD – Amr hourani
MD – Mohd Kamal

@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.