I’ve spent quite a bit of time in airports over the past couple weeks; I was teaching a course in Germany so I made four trips across the pond. As a result I’ve had a chance to get a good look at United’s new brand design.
My prediction: it won’t last long.
Airlines need good brand design; flying is fairly unpleasant so the companies want to elevate the experience. Branding is an important part of the effort. This is why airlines spend millions creating beautiful logos, buying stylish outfits for the cabin crew and painting airplanes.
United’s new brand design is fairly uninspired. The planes have the Continental globe with the word United on the side. It is easy to imagine one of the senior executives at United spending five minutes on it, “Don’t be silly. We don’t need to hire an expensive design firm like Landor. I can just do this on my computer. Put the globe on the tail and the word United on the side. Just use the Arial font. It works in presentations pretty well so it will work on the planes.”
I completely understand why United went with the new design. Combining two brands is always a challenge. Combining two organizations is an even greater challenge. The joining of United and Continental is very sensitive; executives don’t want to make it seem like one airline is acquiring the other. The new looks supports this view. The design clearly communicates that this is a merger, not an acquisition.
It won’t last. Once the integration is complete, United executives will realize the branding is uninspired and weak compared to global competitors such as Emirates and Virgin. They probably know it now. And eventually they will get to work on a brand design that has emotion and meaning. Perhaps the United tulip will return.
My prediction: United will announce a new brand design by early 2013. They probably won’t finish painting all the planes with the current design before they are on to something better.