Friday, January 18, 2013

Will a New Brand Reboot Be Enough for American Airlines?

American Airlines announced yesterday that it was embarking on a journey to build a new airline, starting with a reboot of their brand. Branding is a crucial element in the flying experience. A good brand create a cohesive, high class feeling from start to finish. A weak brand leaves you rolling your eyes. Lufthansa is one of the best examples of a consistent and coherent brand out there today: The fonts are clean and consistent. The colors are distinct from other brands and complementary. The logo evokes the history of the airline, while everything else is modern and hints at German efficiency. A poor brand makes the airline feel and look cheaper than it is. American Airlines suffered from a bit of a stodgy image that partially is the result of branding that hasn't changed much in decades (and a livery that shows every ding, panel, and scrape on the bare aluminum skin of their often older MD-80 planes).

The old livery: Bare aluminum, red, white, & blue. Photo: BriYYZ
They are aiming to put all that behind them with a new look, and yesterday it went live as a vision for where they want to take the airline. The airline's website has gone through an overdue redesign and looks modern and usable. That is a step forward compared to what it used to look like.  Checking a sample fare showed a simplified, straightforward interface for buying trips. The makeover hasn't reached every corner of the website, but the main page and the travel planning sections are more important.

On the new page, the new brand is on display: The classic eagle at the top of this post has been swapped out for for their new logo and "flight symbol", as seen below. This seems like a bit of a flop: The font reminds me of the default font Calibri in Microsoft Word and the logo doesn't sit quite right. The "eagle" in it is a little too abstract and from a distance it resembles a waving French flag. In fact, the logo does bare a passing resemblance to Air France's "flight symbol".

The other major change announced yesterday is the change of livery. The flying tin cans will be replaced by a fleet of red, white, and blue. At a recent event, they had a 737 dressed up in the new paint scheme. Despite the gleam of the CGI render below, it looks like the real planes will be getting a white base coat. Overall, it is fairly simple, except for the distinctive American tail. We will have to see what they look like on the tarmac when these start rolling out in force. Regardless of what the planes look like, the real question will be whether management can change course and become a consistently profitable and attractive airline.

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