When it comes to differentiating one product from another, branding is everything. This applies to almost everything, from motor cars to packets of crisps and pretty much everything else in between. A recognisable brand and the way that it is presented on the product will reassure would-be consumers of its quality, and reinforce in the mind of the customer the values that the item upholds and the type of people it is aimed at.
This, of course applies to airlines as much as, if not more than, many other products and services. Bold branding both inside and outside the cabin can help customers remember what they liked about one carrier or another as much as comfy seats or a decent selection of content on the IFE screens.
While keeping aircraft looking clean and modern is not in itself new, there has been a flurry of airlines updating their brand and image since coming out of the pandemic.
One of these is avianca, which has restyled its name to be written with a lower case ‘a’ and updated the fonts used in its written material. In addition, the brand has introduced the strapline ‘The sky belongs to everyone’ and modernised its website and systems.
“The more than 180 days that our planes spent on the ground due to the Covid-19 pandemic were dark days,” says Adrian Neuhauser, CEO of avianca. “We knew that our airline was at risk of disappearing, as was the connectivity of the countries and regions where we operated and the jobs we generated.
“However, it was also during that time that we saw that it was not only possible but also necessary to achieve a different avianca, one that is more open, closer, more accessible and with more for everyone.” Neuhauser adds that the branding “honours our history and at the same time represents what we are today.”
Change of image
Also keen to move away from an old perception of the brand is Saudia. It wasn’t that many years ago that the airline, along with several of the other Middle Eastern carriers, had an image of a flight to be endured, rather then enjoyed.
Saudia hopes to consign that image to history as the holding company that owns the airline has announced a major rebranding exercise which will cover both the airline itself and its subsidiaries. The new unified logo across the Saudia airline as well as the cargo, academy, technic, real estate and private divisions features a stylised and ‘flattened’ version of the historic crossed swords and palm tree logo. It’s part of a national plan that began back in 2015 to implement projects aimed at enhancing operational efficiency and improving the guest experience across all the places where there will be interaction.
Saudia implemented a programme called ‘Shine’ in 2021, which was an extension of this plan, and the rebrand is a part of that. Ibrahim Al‑Omar, director general of Saudia Group, said: “This is an exciting time in the group’s history. The new brand offers much more than an evolution of our visual identity, but rather a celebration of all that we have achieved. We are implementing a fully integrated programme that will enable us to play a driving role in advancing Vision 2030, in line with the targets of the Saudi Aviation Strategy.”
Air India is another interesting recent example of an airline reinventing its brand to help with customer perception, although the difference here is that customers generally liked the look and feel of the logo (which includes the popular ‘Maharajah’ character) and interior design. However, while the airline was in national ownership, customers often associated the brand with dirty, worn out interiors and poor service.
For that reason, new owner Tata appointed London-based agency FutureBrand to create branding which uses the same colour palette (more or less) but looks substantially different to what had gone before, sporting a modern new, flatter‑looking design without so many fussy details.
The clean and futuristic design of the logo and brand elements hopefully reinforced the idea that the planes would also be clean and new. Interestingly, some of the new aircraft delivered didn’t carry the same design language into the interior as they were planes that had originally been optioned for Aeroflot, but never delivered due to sanctions. These already had interiors fitted.
There are occasions where a brand has to be created to ‘fill the void’ left where a company has split a division off and sold it, or there is another reason why the original name can’t be used for one reason or another. This was fairly common in the retail banking industry following the market crash in 2008 and newly nationalised banks were rolled up and had to create new brands or revive long dormant names. It has also happened in the automotive component market where legacy manufacturers have attempted to sell off large divisions as the industry races to electrify.
It has been seen in the airline industry as well. Italy’s flag carrier Alitalia was a pretty sick patient even before the pandemic, but during the events of 2020 the government had enough and ‘sold’ the company in 2021 to a newly formed entity called ITA Airways.
When formed, there was no brand to speak of, only a large amount of hardware with the legacy carrier’s identity. Although the new entity had the rights to the Alitalia name, it was tarnished with failure. At the time CEO Fabio Lazzerini noted that ‘the brand is historical and well known, it has its pros and cons, with a glorious history and some stumbling blocks’.
ITA went to branding consultancy Landor & Fitch (the same agency that designed the logo for Alitalia). The resulting redesign was more radical than most observers had expected. The aircraft now carried the green, white and red colours of the national flag, which was expected, but the colour ‘Savoy Blue’ now featured heavily inside and outside of the aircraft. It looked stylish and Italian. It manages to look somehow familiar and traditional, but is very clearly different to the airline that went before.
It’s interesting to note that even something as straightforward as changing the cosmetic look of a cabin can cause complications even before a single row of seats is replaced. In this instance, bolting logo emblem plates need to be certified for safety.