By Bill Mount

Director of Insights and Strategy, The Crafton Group


I sent an email about some upcoming travel plans to a TCG colleague a few days ago. I said that Delta had the most convenient flights between Boston and Atlanta, so that’s the airline I booked. She responded, “It’s good to know Delta is still ready when you are.”

     I doubt there’s a person over 35 years old who wouldn’t have instantly recognized the offhand reference in her response. And that got me thinking — in Delta’s long, long history of big, big budget advertising, how come a 40-plus-year-old tagline is the only element of it anyone remembers?


A little web-diving yielded some interesting chunks of information:

  • 26% of business travelers (the travelers airlines actually give a hoot about) are aged 45-54. (That’s the majority.)

  • 20% are 55-64.

  • 24% are 35-44.

  • 19% are 25-34.

  • 4% are 18-34.

That means that almost 70% of the American flying public has probably been exposed to the Delta Is Ready When You Are tagline since it first appeared, 45 years ago.

I also found a list of the taglines that Delta’s used since the 1920’s. I made up a quick and admittedly cursory “tagline taxonomy” and put each of them into a category.

Here’s what that looks like:

1929  Speed, Comfort and Safety – Customer Benefit

1930s  Speed, Comfort and Convenience – Customer Benefit

       Maybe reminding people they needed to think about being safe made them think that perhaps they actually weren’t, so Delta changed the last word.

1940’s The Airline of the SouthDifferentiating Position

1948 None Faster. None Finer. To and Through the SouthCustomer Benefit, plus a Differentiating Position

      I’ll bet somebody at Delta, or at Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborne, saw a couple of different ideas and really liked both of them. Haven’t we all been in that meeting? “I don’t think any of this is quite there yet. But, I’m just thinking out loud. What if we take this, and put it with this…”

1950s One of America’s Pioneer Scheduled AirlinesDifferentiating Position

      A sloppy attempt at a Differentiating Position, anyway, with lots of loud chest-beating on the part of the advertiser. Unfortunately, it’s completely undermined by lawyerly weaseling in those two, deadly words: “One of…” Here’s some free advice: if your tagline has to contain the words “one of…” go back and ponder a little longer.

1959 The Airline with the Big JetsDifferentiating Position based on a Product Feature

1966 The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Air TravelUtterly Baseless Self-Aggrandizement

      Hey, air-traveling public, we’re great! We’re incredible! Why? Because we say so! Aren’t you compelled to buy tickets right this second? Of course you are! Because We’re Great! Taglines like this provide us with endless amusement. Unless a client is pushing for them. Then they provide us with bottomless depression.

1968 Delta Is Ready When You AreCustomer Benefit plus an Implied Differentiating Position

      In the 1960’s, Delta was expanding internationally and acquiring competitors, thereby opening up new routes left and right. They were also introducing the hub-and-spoke system we all know and love today. As a result, Delta could claim the most scheduled arrivals and departures of any other U.S. Airline. This tagline was a brilliant way of converting those fairly unspectacular facts into a significant customer benefit. Kudos.

1970 That’s the Delta SpiritAspirational

      Maybe it was intended to give Delta employees a good feeling about themselves.
This was during a pretty crummy recession.

1970 The Airline Run by ProfessionalsDifferentiating Position

      A really odd one, though. Who’s running United and American?
A couple of dry cleaners and an orthodontist? Again, like the preceding line, this may have been more
inner-directed than outer-directed.

1974 Delta Is My AirlineCustomer Badge

      The concept of “badge positioning” was hot in the mid-seventies (yeah, I was there). The idea was to give customers something desirable they could pin on by buying the product, which would signal This Is Who I Am to everybody else. Usually, though, marketers and their agencies tried to infuse something differentiating and aspirational into the “badge.” In this case, it’s just more “because we say so” marketing.

1980 Airlines Are the Same. Only People Make the DifferenceDifferentiating Position

      I had to think about how to categorize this one. In 1980, airline deregulation had just happened. With this line, Delta was acknowledging it, and attempting to present a differentiator. But notice, they didn’t say Our People Make the Difference. I detect the weaselly paw prints of the lawyers again.

1984 Delta Is Ready When You AreCustomer Benefit, plus an Implied Differentiating Position

      I wonder if they were resurrecting a proven winner.

1984 Delta Gets You ThereCustomer Benefit

      Yeah, it’s a customer benefit. But, what a grievously undifferentiated one. If this was a great tagline, then here are some more: “Coke Is Wet.” “Eat At Burger King. Be Less Hungry.” “Drive a Ford and Arrive at the Place You Intended To Go.” Were the attorneys worried about overpromising?

1987 We Love to Fly and It ShowsDifferentiating Position

      I really have to call this an implied differentiating position. If you think about it, it doesn’t convey any specific benefit at all. It’s all about “us.” “We.” It sounds good, though. I’d much rather fly with somebody who loves doing it. I’d hate for them to just get fed up with the whole flying thing when I’m 30,000 feet up and halfway to Louisville.

1992 Ready When You AreCustomer Benefit plus an Implied Differentiating Position

      Look. It’s back. In a new, tighter, punchier form. This is the third time in fewer than 30 years that this has reappeared. There must be a reason. After all, marketers seldom make such crucial decisions arbitrarily.

1994 You’ll Love the Way We FlyDifferentiating Position

      Again, like 1987’s line, it’s more implied than stated. And, like the 1966 line, it’s all about how “We’re Great.” And, by golly, you’re going to love it. So buy ours.

1997 On Top of the WorldAspirational

      Unlike the 1970’s aspirational line, this one is open-ended enough to leave room for the customer. It doesn’t specify who’s on top of the world, so maybe we’re all up there together.

2005 Good Goes AroundAspirational, plus a Differentiating Position

      Air travel was dreadful in the mid-aughts. Post 9/11 security measures were still being worked out. A number of major carriers were reeling on the verge of near-bankruptcy.

      At the same time, this was the dawn of the age of “doing well by doing good” marketing. Corporations wanted to be seen as making the world a better place and to be rewarded for that by having more people buy more of their stuff.

      This line does a good job of bringing all those factors together in just three words. The downside is that the line would work just as well for any number of marketers. It could even work for, oh, say, a nonprofit organization that recycles used bicycles for underprivileged kids. Just for example.

Current Keep ClimbingAspirational plus Badge plus Corporate Values Poetry

      I’ve had to open a new sub-category for this one. It’s definitely aspirational and can be applied to both the company and the consumer. But it’s also representative of a “new” genre of advertising that I’m calling Corporate Values Badge Poetry (to understand the quotes around “new,” please refer to the famous Cadillac ad from 1915 – yes, that’s before the U.S. joined World War I – headlined “The Penalty of Leadership”).

      The idea is to capture all the good things the brand aims to stand for in a few words that consumers will want to be associated with (that’s the Badge part). Apple has long been a purveyor of this type of advertising. Think back to the launch of Think Different in 1997. And lately, brands as diverse as Levi’s, Exxon-Mobil, Honeywell and Kayem Hot Dogs are doing it.


      So, to return to the original question. Why is Delta Is Ready When You Are just about the only thing anybody remembers from Delta Airlines’ 80-plus years of spending significant money on advertising?

I believe it’s because it’s an excellent tagline.


It’s excellent for six reasons:

  1. It conveys a relevant benefit. It’s not about how We’re Great. It’s about how We Can Do Great Things For You.

  2. It subtly but clearly differentiates the brand. It implies that other airlines might not be ready.

It flatters the customer. It says “you’re a busy, important person who frequently needs to be someplace important to do important things and we’re standing by to get you there pronto.” Even better, it says that without actually saying it. Sometime soon we’ll post another article about “You’re a person who…” marketing.

  4. It’s demonstrably true. It’s based on an actual “product feature.” When the line first appeared, Delta could legitimately claim the most scheduled arrivals and departures of any other U.S. carrier.

  5. It scans like a beast. This is a little bit of copywriter arcana, but it just means that the accents in the sentence fall in a way that makes the words hook into your brain. DEL-ta is READ-y when YOU are. Show of hands. Who can sing the original jingle? This is the sign of true craft on the part of the creators.

  6. It contains the name of the brand. This is nitpicky, but I think the shortened, 1992 version is less potent.

To me, if you can check all those boxes with just six words, you’ve created an exceptionally hardworking tagline. Perhaps one that will still be quoted in almost half a century.

And, if you’re a marketer, paying someone to create a tagline for your brand, you should accept nothing less.


      The line was written Jim Jordan, a legendary (to some of us marketing nerds, at least) copywriter who became president of BBDO, after also writing Wisk Beats Ring Around The Collar and Schaefer Is The One Beer To Have When You’re Having More Than One. He left BBDO in the early 1980’s to form Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, where he has the distinction of being the first copywriter to get the word “zit” into a Clearasil commercial. They sold a lot of Clearasil. You can look that up.


Bravo on a well done analysis especially the musicality of the line AND incorporating Delta into it.  My 2 faves are British .. British Airways “We’ll take better care of you” NOT Worlds Favourite Airline. I stole that for one of my clients. Of course they didn’t so it was finally dropped.

And British Caledonian “We never forget you have a choice” An awful lot of implication there but they did what they said and were one of world’s preferred airlines until British Airways illegally crushed them and then bought the ashes.

I love how long Southwest has sold it’s real people until now when everyone looks an acts like a .. well .. actor.

Leslie Klein Westlake said it best!

Loved reading this. It’s been a while since a tag line made me swoon and sway. But I’ll never lose hope/span>