Air India: A grand revamp for a brand new brand

Air India in more ways than one is an India property. It is a brand that has the pride of being put together by a passionate J R D Tata, the doyen of the Tata group.
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)

Air India is a brand new Air India today. A brand with a new identity that it has put together for itself. In the week gone by, the Tata Group and AI Chairman, N Chandrasekaran, and AI CEO Campbell Wilson, unveiled a totally new airline logo and livery. On the outer part of the aircraft is the brand name “AIR INDIA”, painted in a bold new font, with the underbelly also carrying the brand name—for those who might just look up at the aircraft as it flies over.

As I look keenly at this just-unveiled brand identity kit, I am happy for the airline. It has put together a new avatar for the future. An airline that has been in the throes of government ownership for a long time is just about coming out of that shadow, or eclipse (if I am to be rude).

The colour red is being used strongly, as is the different-looking font. The tail fin comprises a riot of colours though, including red, metallic gold and purple. And this is where the brand loses out in terms of recognition and distinction. While “less is more” is the colour ethos of the future, in this case, it seems to have been given a miss. Possibly, force-fitting the Air Vistara purple into Air India’s brand image is the reason for this “colour clutter”.

A big part of this rebranding exercise of Air India is its logo, the Vista, which draws inspiration from the airline’s ‘jharoka’/window. Expect advertising executions to take full advantage of this small window. A window is after all something you look out of. And when you do, you see a lot. A window is a limitless device for sure, just as Microsoft has discovered and used to its advantage globally in the past. Importantly, a window is something that helps one look inside from the outside as well. Air India needs to prepare itself adequately so its customers can do just that and experience the positive.

Even as this new brand identity kit has been unveiled, social media has seen a frenzy of comments and counter-comments. A lot of people hate the change completely. I don’t blame them really. The key point to understand is a simple one: Air India is an Indian property. Any brand name with “India” in it will be owned by Indians passionately, never mind whether they use it physically or not.

Air India in more ways than one is an Indian property. It is a brand that has the pride of being put together by a passionate J R D Tata, the doyen of the Tata group. It has had the India name flying all over the world, with it being even recognised globally as a gold-standard airline in the distant past. An airline of choice when you thought of travel into or out of India. And then came government control.

The airline deteriorated in terms of service. This happened slowly but surely. And this dip in service led to a dip in the image of the brand as well. It had to happen. When the product does not deliver, its image sinks. And now, with the brand under Tata Group once again, a lot is expected from it. This brand image rejig is possibly just the beginning of the good times the airline expects to put together for itself and its users.

The noise and dissonance surrounding this brand identity kit are bound to be there. Air India may not be India’s most favourite airline yet, but its brand assets were. And is. Air India in many ways is owned by the people of India. In their minds. The AI Maharajah, the bold red, the decorative window and literally everything else about the airline have been the personal belongings of the Indian.

When you love the old that much, you will hate the new just as much. But even this shall pass and I do believe things will settle down as people get used to the change. A brand identity change is tough, and this sure is a big one being attempted.

One big question on every mind that looks at this brand change kit is the wonderment of where the AI Maharajah is. Is he in the graveyard of brand mascots? There is a big one around for sure. Or is he kept in the vault of Airlines House in New Delhi? Is he a museum piece now? Will we see a bit of him (silhouettes we are told) now and then? Is he going to be phased out using the ideology of JnD (Just a noticeable difference), where you use less and less till you take the mascot into oblivion?

The answer sure is blowing in the tailwind of this brand image change focus. The AI Maharajah is not to be seen anywhere. Times have surely changed. The privy purse for the maharajas in India was abolished by Indira Gandhi in 1971. The maharaja is today a piece of fiction even. A piece of the times gone by. Irrelevant. Inconsequential. And maybe even politically incorrect.

And even as I say that, I must add a personal view I hold dear to my heart. In a world where everything is new, plastic, brick, mortar, solid, synthetic, polished and futuristic (even politically correct), the old is of value. If not now, a few years hence. In a world where everything is about hard touch, the soft touch of the old AI Maharajah may just count. Erasing the old and drawing the new, everyone can do. Very few can, however, actually preserve the old and make it new. Just saying.

Let me then, in conclusion, get back to the Vista, window, or ‘jharoka’ of yore. Air India has put together this new brand identity kit with passion and purpose. The Vista offers plenty in terms of image when you look out of it. When you look into it though from the outside, you will look into an airline and its efficiency on offer. You will peep into the interiors of an aircraft, its in-flight service standards, its food, and its platinum standards of promise-delivery, among others.

While AI has revamped its brand image through the Vista logo and the new colour themes, the airline does need to equally deliver on this image in real terms. Every passenger who uses the airline will partake of the offering with new and enhanced expectations. These expectations need to be met, and more importantly, outdone. And that, Campbell Wilson, is the true challenge at hand. All the best as you make it happen.

Harish Bijoor

Brand Guru and Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc

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