Marketing History: Elsie Mackay

March 31, 2021

It’s Women’s History Month! I like history and marketing and was inspired to blend the two. Today I’m talking about a woman who is a pioneer in aviation that lived in the 1920s and had a life fit for a motion picture, Elsie Mackay.

Elsie Mackay

My grandfather was a self-made businessman and in his later years invested in international property, one of which was Glenapp Castle in Scotland. He was not prone to exaggeration, he was known for telling it like it is and definitely didn’t give in to fanciful storytelling.  But when I was in my twenties, long after he had sold Glenapp Castle, I somehow got into a conversation with him about whether or not he thought the castle was haunted. I fully expected him to say no and instead, he told me this story.

“One day while alone in our bedroom at the castle, I heard footsteps in the hall. Your grandma had gone out and I figured she had come back home so I shouted out after her and got no response. I then heard heavy footsteps that sounded like someone wearing boots walking towards me. I looked out into the hall and heard the footsteps advance forward towards me but saw no one. I figured it was probably a ghost. Later I heard that Amelia Earheart had visited the castle and realized the boots were heavy like airmen boots that aviators wore and figured it was probably her.”

My grandpa did reconnaissance in WWII and was well qualified in recognizing the types of shoes someone wore. And while Amelia Earheart is said to have visited Glenapp Castle while alive it was due to her acquaintance with one Ms. Elsie Mackay. 

The History Behind Elsie Mackay

Elsie was born in 1893 and was the third daughter of James Mackay, 1st Earl of Inchcape of Strathnaver. She tragically died at age 35 in an aviation accident but the way she lived was the stuff of legends. A New York Times article from March 1928 wrote, “Every luxury money commands has not satisfied Lord Inchcape’s daughter in her thirst for adventure.” Elsie, was an actress on both stage and film from 1917-1921 and acted under the alias of Poppy Wyndham. In 1917 she eloped with an actor, Dennis Wyndham to the disapproval of her family. In 1922 her marriage was annulled and she reconciled with her family. “In 1923, a year after her divorce, she took up flying lessons at the famous De Havilland Flying School, becoming one of the very first British women—and certainly the first Scottish woman—to gain her pilot’s license.” (From the Dangerous Women Project)

She was a fearless pilot, pushing herself to the limits, including a stunt called the “outside loop” where her safety strap came loose and she literally had to grip tight for her life while dangling upside down outside of the airplane! She was wealthy in her own right and loved fancy clothes and cars. Her silver Rolls Royce was a favorite topic of the media of her day. She also had an eye for design and fashion. She took an interest in her father’s shipping business and took a position as the artistic director for the cabins and kitchen arrangements for the steamers in the shipping line Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) Steamship Company. 

As someone married to an aviation enthusiast, one knows that there is no “quieting” the call to the sky and it sounds like Elsie was a true aviator in that regard. She had aspirations to not only be the first woman but first person to fly the east-to-west Atlantic crossing. She managed to keep her role in the transatlantic flight secret and planned with fellow aviator Captain Walter Hinchliffe to make the voyage in March, 1928. It seems Philadelphia was their intended final destination but despite extra fuel they carried and meticulously watching the weather (like all good aviators), they would not never see their voyage complete. The newspapers made a grand affair of telling the story of the celebrity daughter of Lord Inchape who had secretly taken off with Captain Hinchliffe while her parents were away in Egypt. In fact, several news articles headlined that her father was putting on a good show for his wife after learning of his daughter’s flight and disappearance in order to keep it from Elsie’s mother who allegedly was in poor health. The newspapers followed her story for a while with tips and sightings coming in from all over the world, until eventually, no one could deny the truth, Captain Hinchliffe and Elsie Mackay were gone forever. In a charitable gesture, Lord Inchape gave in trust the remaining $2.5 M estate of Elsie’s to help pay down the British National debt. The following year after Elsie’s disappearance Lord and Lady Inchape dedicated a window in the local parish in Ballantrae, the church near Glenapp Castle. 

The Elsie Mackay Campaign

Alright so here we go, let’s get a marketing strategy in place for Ms. Mackay to get the word out about her and her adventurous life. Click on the link below the image to view the PowerPoint presentation that outlines the first part of the marketing strategy. This strategy includes the goal, objective, how to measure, and our audience. After we get this foundation in place, we’ll jump to the creative concept.!AsLDreQoFFbKdSO0mXafCvg-hrA

Click on link above ^^^^

Creative Concept

Now the fun part, the creative concept. I love analytics but I equally love the creativity part of marketing.

I highly recommend reading this next part while listening to the following playlist. It sets the mood and is a fun music genre I didn’t know existed until I started researching for this article.

I also put together a mood board on Pinterest to create a visual of the things that stood out to me about Elsie’s story. I’m a visual person so this helps me start to craft up ideas and connect the dots for how to market her story.

Who could we collaborate with that has an existing platform and audience that would help us tell her story? We need to look for force multipliers. This is the reason brands collaborate with influencers but don’t forget that brands themselves often are influencers. We’re starting off with nothing and have no budget so it’s really important to figure out what we can bring to the table when asking to partner or collaborate with an influencer or brand.

Force Multipliers

Possible Force Multipliers for Ms. McKay:

Factors we’ll want to consider when determining what we can bring to the table are:

Glenapp Castle, high-end bed & breakfast : this seems like an obvious choice since Elsie it was Elsie’s home and she is known to haunt it (it’s not just my grandpa by the way…lots of people have said to have seen or heard her ghost there)

What can we bring to the table? The travel industry has been hit hard by this pandemic. One of my favorite innovations to come out of a travel company is Airbnb’s online experience. It’s a virtual experience that can bring in extra revenue. One of their more popular experiences is “Following a Plague Doctor Through Prague,” it’s essentially a virtual tour.

When approaching Glenapp Castle, I’d recommend they put together a virtual haunted castle tour, similar in format to the Plague Doctor tour, for an airbnb experience.  For our purpose, the ghost tour can be the hook to explain more about the history of their resident ghost, Elsie MacKay. We could help them come up with the script so we can make sure that the narrative we want people to remember (pioneer in aviation) comes out loud and clear in this ghost tour. Honestly, some of the history lessons I’ve retained the most have come from ghost tours. I love that stuff. 

Rolls Royce – I know you’re probably thinking a car is a weird brand to collaborate with for a pioneering aviator but after doing a bunch of research and reading a bunch of articles from the 1920s the public was fascinated with her Rolls Royce and retro is cool…again. Additionally, they already have an established (and historical/iconic) brand that could help share Elsie’s story more widely with less effort. 

Rolls Royce has recently rebranded and is trying to target a younger demographic. They are actively focusing on cultivating their exclusive owners only online community, Whispers. In a recent article in “Marketing,” Emma Rickett, head of lifestyle communications at Rolls Royce, was asked about the digital direction of the brand and in particular, the Whispers community. She was quoted saying, ‘“We envision this will further develop and increase going forward, for example increasing our presence on mobile phone platforms, exploring further avenues such as direct broadcasting, augmented reality experiences and innovative client engagement routes.”’

What is our ask of Rolls Royce?

We’ll propose an idea that is centered around Elsie’s life story but also helps them target their desired audience and offer a fun experience for their community, Whispers.  Win, win. 

What’s the Idea? 

This idea could be developed for either AR or VR but for simplicity’s sake, let’s choose AR (because it’s my favorite) for this discussion. 

 An augmented reality (AR) experience in which every time you open a car door it shows Elsie sitting in a Rolls Royce interior in the seat next to you.

Social Media Plan

Social media posts are the tools and tactics we’ll use to carry out our strategy laid out earlier in this post. Social media platforms and trends are constantly evolving so we’ll want to make sure we’re using the most recent social media trends to best reach our outlined audience.

Below are some recent social media trends and ideas on how we might be able to incorporate them into our social media plan.

Short Form Video or Micro-Videos

Short Form videos are 60 seconds or less, micro-videos are essentially the same but 15 seconds or less. These were widely made popular by social media platform TikTok. Whenever you have new functionality that becomes as popular as TikTok has, you’ll quickly see other platforms follow suit. Today in the US, in addition to TikTok, you can choose Instagram Reels, SnapChat Spotlight and YouTube Shorts which should be rolling out in the US any day now.

It’s becoming increasingly clear, through data, that people are hungry to consume this type of content. I recommend utilizing it in your social media plan where you’re able. Physicians, scientists, brands, and more have found a way to make somewhat complicated information, relatable and fun. Plus there seemingly is no end to whatever industry you’re in and a hashtag for the like on TikTok. I went down a major rabbit hole when exploring #HistoryTok. Those hashtags can help your target audience discover your content when you use them. Below is a little #HistoryTok I created for Elsie Mackay campaign.

If you have created longer videos then it would be ideal to use YouTube shorts to lead them to the longer YouTube videos on your YouTube channel. That way people don’t have to leave one platform to reach another thereby increasing your click-through rate to the longer videos.


Video and livestreaming were the social media darlings before the pandemic but in 2020, livestreaming went from nice-to-have to have-to-have. For better or worse, we’re all getting used to live video. Using livestream in a fun and creative way can help reach our audience. We’re trying to reach a younger audience interested in aviation and history. We could host a stream live on Snapchat, livestream on Instagram Live or TikTok Live where our audience could ask questions to female aviators, and take a virtual tour of vintage airplanes. For Elsie Mackay’s campaign, it would be especially cool if we could tour a Stinson Detroiter, the aircraft that Elsie was flying when she made her fateful last flight.

Social Audio Apps

A lot of people are wondering if this is a pandemic fad or not. The dominant players in this space are Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces. However, the day I went to publish this writing, it was announced that both Spotify and LinkedIn are both pursuing their own version of a social audio app to compete with Clubhouse. I personally have spent time researching and participating on Clubhouse and actually really enjoy it! It’s basically a podcast with the ability to interact with people via audio-only in real-time. I think there is a lot to explore here and with the added help of creativity, I think you can use these audio apps to help complement existing social media initiatives. For example, we could host a room with female pilots. Perhaps they could talk about the flight path Elsie Mackay had mapped out with Captain Hinchcliffe. Or! We could invite someone in marketing from Rolls Royce to talk about how they incorporated VR into their Elsie Mackay campaign. There are a lot of different directions you could take this but I think social audio apps are worth a look, regardless of whether people say they’re a fad or not. If you’re worried about metrics, you can always try pairing a hosted room on Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces with something like a LinkedIn Event or IG Live where you can allow the audience to ask questions via the written word and the moderators on Clubhouse can choose and present. This allows you at the very least to get some metrics from a platform that offers metrics you can see.

Saying Goodbye to Ms. Elsie Mackay

I hope you enjoyed this little journey on bringing a once-celebrated but now forgotten pioneer in aviation to life. If you have any ideas on how you would market her incredible story, or simply have more information about her, please let me know!

I found this research personally rewarding so I imagine I’ll do a couple more Marketing History posts. Feel free to send suggestions my way.

Happy marketing, everyone.

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