30 July 2007

Is Virgin's new airline V and an old V?

What's in a name when you already use it?

Certainly it seems a case of recycling, a name when Virgin Airlines Australia announced the name of it's new US/Australia long haul airline last week.

V Australia is the official name of Virgin Blue's new long haul carrier, but a visit to parent company Virgin's website already lists Virgin Vie (pronounced V) and the V Festival (recently launched in Australia) as company sub-brands. So DIFFUSION really wonders if the airline has really thought through the whole naming and sub-brand process.

But what should we expect when the name came as a result of a two week competition ran by a radio station which attracted a total of 5942 entries, which included some what the airlines desscribes as "creative suggrestions" like "Randy Roo Airlines", "Choo Choo Flying Big Blue" and "Pineapple Airlines". Among the finalists were: Matilda Blue, V Australia Airlines, Australia Blue, Virgin Pacific, Amelia Blue, Didgeree Blue, Liberty Blue and Virgin Australia.

Here at DIFFUSION either Virgin Pacific or Virgin Australia would seem to fit with current nomenclature.

The company says the decision was unanimous but we're not sure if that was because Virgin Blue CEO Brett Godfrey really didn't have to pay any of the fees associated with a real name and branding project of this status, or just like Virgin CEO Richard Branson was more interested in the PR value.

Certainly it doesn't fit into any of the British namesake's nomenclature and is remarkably similar to Virgin's cosmetics company Virgin Vie, which DIFFUSION director Stephen Byrne worked on, or to the eponymously named V Festival.

But Godfrey claimed the new name was "nice and simple, easily recognised, both understated and obvious and has a clear Australian identity" (does he mean brand identity?)

Even more interesting was the inclusion of the Southern Cross in the new livery for the airline, yet another swipe at rival Qantas.

The livery, closer to former Qantas rival Ansett, features a smart silver fuselage with a red tail including the stars of the Southern Cross, elements of the Australian flag and the distinctive Virgin red.

"It is important for us to use the Southern Cross not only for its geographic connotations, but also for its place in Australian aviation folklore," said Godfrey.

When DIFFUSION checked, the name wasn't even associated with a local website or the huge Virgin.com portal.

Not much to notice in the Qantas rebrand.

As DIFFUSION mentioned in our 21 July blog Qantas needs more than a logo makeover the world's most profitable airline unveiled a new version of the iconic flying kangaroo last week.

In a company annoucement, Qantas Executive General Manager John Borghetti claimed the new design was part of Qantas' "increasing focus on contemporary design for its in-flight and on-the-ground products" but DIFFUSION accepts that the logo change was more to do with the requirement that the new logo fit the new A380s it will start taking delivery of this time next year.

Qantas went to Sydney based design company Hulsbosch for the work, rather than to a specialist brand agency.

Accompanying the logo redesign, is a change in the corporate typeface to a more modern grey sans serif for the airline.

What's most interesting will be to see whether customers will see any real benefit from the rebrand. In visual theory, it just registers against the Difference Threshold (or what is also known as "Just Noticeable Difference") under the widely regarded Weber's Law, which determines the minimum amount by which stimulus intensity must be changed in order to produce a noticeable variation in sensory experience. So the more sleeker, angular kangaroo is a slight variation on the 1984 rebrand.

Ernst Weber, a 19th century experimental psychologist, observed that the size of the difference threshold appeared to be lawfully related to initial stimulus magnitude. This relationship has since been known as Weber's Law.

We're not sure if either Hulsbosch or Mark Newson know about Weber's law, but certainly Qantas going to have to go a lot further to deliver tangible benefits to both customers and shareholder. Focussing on the perceptible physical displays (brand marks, livery, seating, cabin design) is far easier than looking at the more underlying brand problems than can cause sudden unexplainable shifts in brand perception. With a six year time frame to repaint the entire fleet with the new logo, they certainly have some time to get things right.