In a consumer world that is ruled by brand names, it has never been more important for an airline to have the right public image. If the national flag and perhaps a catchy logo on planes, counters and ticket covers were sufficient in the olden days, today branding is a science of its own. Half a dozen branding agencies, most of them based in London and the USA, are fighting not just on behalf of toothpaste or cars but, with dogged determination, in the aviation industry over budgets worth millions. "The airlines are much more conscious today that branding can be a question of survival," says David Davis of the Future Brand agency. It is not just a matter of appearing attractive to one’s own staff and one’s customers. With all the consolidation going on in the world of aviation it is important in the industry as well to give off the right aura. This can determine whether an airline itself is viewed as a potential acquirer or merely as a target for take-over by a stronger brand. "In an environment of market consolidation a powerful brand is particularly important for airlines," says James Gregory of Corporate Branding, an international firm of branding consultants. "The brand can determine whether a merger will be successful or fail, depending on how the brand is perceived and nurtured. According to rankings maintained by Corporate Branding the strongest brands in aviation are currently Delta Air Lines, Southwest and British Airways, whereas US Airways, United and American occupy only positions seven to nine in the Top Ten. A brand makeover, or rebranding as it is called, is not something to take on lightly. "Rebranding or even the introduction of a new logo should be a sign of change within the company," says Charles Wrench, head of the London office of Landor Associates, one of the biggest branding agencies. "If that is not the case, then it is dishonest, a promise that cannot be kept . And it is expensive as well: bmi british midland’s total facelift presented in February of this year (FLUG REVUE 04/01) will cost some DM 60 million ($27 million) over the next two years, making it one of the most spectacular airline rebranding exercises of recent years. This includes the cost of repainting the aircraft and the necessary investment on the ground. "We only get a fraction of that," Peter Knapp, also of Landor, who managed the bmi redesign, is sad to say. Nonetheless, Michael Bishop, Chairman of bmi, does find the cost a little daunting. "Now that I have seen the bill, this will be the last campaign of this kind for some time. The first airline to have changed its image with a striking branding concept was the American airline, Braniff International of Dallas. Back in 1965 the designer Alexander Girard introduced what remains to this day a unique concept: he selected seven colours, including pink, green and orange, and had the entire fleet painted with them, each aircraft in one colour with a logo on the tail, which remained white. At the same time cabin seats were covered with specially designed materials, and these colours and shapes were also prominent at ticket counters and in lounges. In 1973 Girard commissioned the well-known artist Alexander Calder to paint first a DC-8 and later a Boeing 727 with abstract art all over. When Braniff flew to Europe for the first time in 1980, the Boeing 747SPís used were simply known as "Big Orange, having been painted all over from the landing gear well flaps through to the tip of the tail plane the colour of the sun. Sadly, Braniff went bankrupt in 1982.
After that it was not until 1997 that the world of design got another opportunity to leave its mark on an airline, when British Airways dropped the grey-blue business look created by Landor in 1984 and overnight assumed the role of global airline with its unusual ethnic design. 15 international artists whose origins ranged from the Ndebele tribe of South Africa through to Canadian Indian and Russian had designed...
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