Bankrupt American Airlines found a little extra cash to invest in a lot of paint.
The troubled airline — which is rumored to be considering a merger with US Airways and has irked its union in recent months with threatened job cuts — introduced a new look Thursday, its first major design change in 40 years.
In the airline's new identity, the eagle long a fixture in the airline’s logo has been marginalized. Only a suggestion of it remains in the “neck and head embedded in the design element in front of the American’s lettering at the airplane’s front," The Dallas Morning News noted.
The goal of the rebrand project by FutureBrand is to honor the airline's "uniquely American" heritage, according to AA's press release:
“Our new logo and livery are designed to reflect the passion for progress and the soaring spirit, which is uniquely American,” said Virasb Vahidi, American’s Chief Commercial Officer. “Our core colors — red, white and blue have been updated to reflect a more vibrant and welcoming spirit. The new tail, with stripes flying proudly, is a bold reflection of American’s origin and name. And our new flight symbol, an updated eagle, incorporates the many icons that people have come to associate with American, including the ‘A’ and the star.”
American Eagle and the AAdvantage® program also will get a new look as of today. The first American Eagle plane will fly the new livery beginning in February. Updating the new look across American’s network is a long process and will be rolled out over time to the airlines airports, interiors and exteriors of aircraft, new uniforms, products and services, and technology platforms like AA.com and the American mobile apps.
"While we complete the evaluation of whether a merger can build on American's strengths, we remain steadfast in each step we take to renew our airline, a step we take with great respect for our name American,” American CEO Tom Horton commented about the corporate makeover, according to the Dallas Business Journal. The airline declined to disclose the costs of the new branding.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker — who has said that the AA name would be kept should the airlines merge — stated: "We applaud our friends at American as the new brand elements and livery mark the culmination of a significant amount of work and coordination, and clearly those efforts have produced a compelling result."
While some positive responses were shared via the brand's #newAmerican Twitter hashtag on Thursday, many were mocking and negative. The Atlantic Wire called the plane's Fourth of July-style tail "jingoistic," and a Wall Street Journal headline declared: "Captain America Takes to the Sky."
Forest Young, New York design director at brandchannel parent Interbrand, comments:
The former American Airlines identity, designed in 1967 by Vignelli Associates, extended into the collective past — the polished aluminum livery was a nostalgic nod to the metallic planes at the glamorous dawn of air travel, while the timeless Helvetica and minimal graphic architecture constituted a forward-thinking approach, even by today's standards — and was a benchmark of enduring modernism.
Massimo Vignelli noted that the "half-red, half-blue, in plain type stresses the professional, no gimmicks attitude of the company in the colors of the home nation." He begrudgingly incorporated the signature "scissors eagle" at the behest of the client — a vestigial symbol dating back to the original Embry-Riddle Company from 1925 — but noted that the logo was "one of the few worldwide that needs no change."
Around 1967, parallel to the debut of the American Airlines identity program, IBM revealed to the general public their striped logo — later simplified to 8 bars from 13, designed by Paul Rand earlier that decade. It is important to present this historical fact in light of the company's defense for their uninspired solution. Together, IBM and American Airlines represented two of the remaining and arguably sacrosanct identity programs created by the perennial 20th century identity design greats. Until today.
From a customer perspective, AA platinum-level frequent flier Brian Shepard praised the new look to USA Today while adding:
The new livery and re-branding of the "new American" is certainly a step forward, but management must couple its PR and marketing strategy with measured outcomes, focusing on customer service and working relentlessly to reduce delays and cancellations. I, for one, am optimistic about the future of AMR/American Airlines, but firmly believe that the refreshed livery needs to be just the first step in its game plan to win over passengers.
Opinions about AA's new visual identity — now installed at AA HQ in Fort Worth, Texas, and rolling out to its lounges and other consumer touchpoints, as its Facebook page promotes in a photo gallery — were intermingled with downbeat commentary on the overall issues facing the beleaguered airline. American's unions, for instance, used the company's new look as a springboard for larger criticism.
"A new paint job is fine, but it does not fix American’s network deficiencies and toxic culture, so we continue our steadfast support of a merger with US Airways and not doubling down on the network strategy that brought us into bankruptcy,” Allied Pilots Association spokesman Dennis Tajer told the Dallas Morning News.
The American Professional Flight Attendants also called for further change at the airline. “We hope this re-branding is the first of many steps toward making American Airlines a company that we can be proud to work for and one that can grow and compete in today's marketplace,” APFA spokeswoman Leslie Mayo told thehill.com. “That can only happen with a merger inside bankruptcy.”
Saying the logo and livery redesign had been underway for two years, Horton claimed that a possible merger and the company's troubled finances had nothing to do with American trying to reboot its image and said he informed US Airways chief Doug Parker of the pending announcement “as a courtesy.” Conde Nast Traveler's Brett Snyder characterized the change, however, as part of a managerial "game of chess."
The design changes aren’t likely to move American from the bottom of the Wall Street Journal’s annual airline scorecard, either. Horton has already apologized profusely for the airline’s delays and difficulties in 2012, but the Journal notes that American has been at or near the bottom of the list for on-time performance for six consecutive years.
It all goes back to the customer experience, as Stuart Green, CEO Asia-Pacific for Interbrand, commented:
It's always interesting to see a "new look" for an airline. And American is clearly leveraging on what makes it, well, "American." But what exactly does that mean? Hardware and technology advancements, though important, will provide an advantage for a short period of time. However, it's critical to clearly differentiate. The more “experiential”-focused airlines know that customers want brand experiences that are relevant and appropriate—not just at a point in time, but on an ongoing basis, and often customized to their liking.
Rather than weigh business decisions against the multitude of external factors out of their control (high operating costs, regulations, an ever-changing economy), the strongest airlines use their brand as a decision filter and act with confidence that they’ll deliver what their customers desire. This way, any new visual identity has far greater meaning to customers and the brand has a better chance of creating genuine loyalty.
Share your thoughts on the rebrand in the comments — and find out more from AA's videos, below: its "Change is in the Air" commercial promoting the rebrand and a behind-the-scenes look at the new identity.