Flag is the strongest element of airline identity

With regard to Vox Pop about the British Airways identity (DW 19 July), one of the most important things is that it seems to be a classic case of ‘right strategy, wrong execution’. BA was right to try to establish itself as a true world brand, but probably put too much emphasis (or maybe the media did) on the wrong things.

For example, more could have been done to make the staff more representative of a world brand (I think BA has actually done pretty well in putting together cabin crews of different nationalities, but it’s only a start). But it still feels essentially a British brand in that regard.

What made matters worse was the concentration on the design aspects, and the tailfin within that. The redesign completely missed the point of what an airline identity is made of – the tailfin is really where the flag flies, and is the strongest element of an airline identity. To put such a range of different designs on the tailfin made the airline look disjointed and seriously weakened the brand identifier. Worse still, the ‘ribbon’ is a weak device, not able to make up for the deficiencies at the other end of the plane, and certainly not strong enough to bring all the disparate design elements together.

There were obviously practical difficulties as well. I’ve heard stories that the Control Tower people lodged complaints over the tailfins, for the fact that they made it impossible to sort out which plane was which around the apron and taxi areas. Also, that other airline pilots couldn’t work out the BA plane they were being asked to follow in on their approach. They may not be true, but it still demonstrates the need for designers to think really hard about the practical aspects of their work.

The final point I’d make is the one about timing. To launch this programme, with all of its costs made public exactly at the same time as BA announced a huge cost-cutting programme was crass. The numbers were huge, but almost perfectly matched – tens of millions to be cut, all sorts of internal strife.and tens of millions spent on what was actually a weakening of the brand’s visual identity.

Keith Wells keith.wells@dragonbrands.com

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