No-frills airlines such as Go, Ryanair, Buzz and EasyJet have been
having a good time of it of late. While market share of their mainstream
competitors has been dwindling, the low-cost operators have reported
It's a buoyant market. So, two months after bmi british midland's chief
executive, Austin Reid, denied plans to turn the airline into a low-cost
operation, bmi has launched its own budget sub-brand to be based at East
Midlands airport. "It's the sector of the aviation market which is
growing most quickly," Simon Gregory, the marketing director of the
newly hatched bmibaby, comments.
Low-cost airlines have been around for seven years, so bmibaby's arrival
lives up to its name. Distinctive advertising will be crucial in the
infant's early months if it is to cut through the cacophany of messages
on low price and special discounts. "Where we can differentiate is on
personality," Nigel Long, the chief executive of Partners BDDH, the
agency chosen to handle the launch, says.
To this end the name bmibaby was conceived. "It's a name that naturally
fell out of its positioning," Long says. "It's not separate from bmi -
it's part of its family." Gregory adds: "We've started with a
leisure-oriented offering. Our position is going to be around our
heritage in that area."
This is a contrast to the bold and brassy approach of most low-cost
The sector has traditionally seen a more robust and even gritty
marketing message - the most aggressive of which was characterised in
the Vinnie Jones ad for Ryanair.
EasyJet's advertising typifies the sector's brusque marketing tone.
Built on the airline's distinctive livery and branding and,with only a
single creative design team instead of an agency, it keeps costs down
while allowing a quick turnaround. "You can't replicate that speed if
you use a creative agency," Toby Nicol, EasyJet's head of corporate
The soft vulnerability suggested by the bmibaby name sets a different
tone from the rest of the no-frills group. "The name is taking you down
a more touchy-feely route, and that's not the language of the sector,"
David Magliano, the sales and marketing director of Go, says. If managed
well, this could provide bmibaby with its unique positioning. However,
managed poorly, it could prove its undoing.
Bmibaby will be run by the same management as that of its parent brand,
something that is seen as an interesting choice by competitors such as
Go, which had a completely different management from its former British
British Midland has been operating out of East Midlands airport for more
than 30 years and it seems no coincidence that bmibaby's birth came a
month after its rival Go announced plans to set up at the airport. "It
had obviously identified the same opportunity as we had," Gregory says
of bmibaby's rival. "The launch was timed around when we could release
the right aircraft. We happened to have two of them coming up."
It's bmibaby's plans to launch with a fleet of only two aircraft that
leaves some competitors scornful of its chances. Certainly, successful
advertising will need to be backed by investment in more craft. "We'll
get a lot of production out of those aircraft," Gregory argues. However,
others say bmi will have to take its existing routes and rebrand them as
low cost, which will effectively cannibalise its own market. "You can't
take an existing route, stick a new name on the side of it and drop
£100, as you still have the same cost base," Nicol maintains.
Nevertheless, both EasyJet and Go claim bmibaby is no threat to
"The market will undoubtedly be big enough for both of us," Magliano
says spiritedly. While growth of the market looks set to continue, the
question is which low-cost model to back in the long term. Bmibaby needs
to carve out its niche - and to do so, it needs to grow up quickly.
"It's not going to be a soft and cuddly baby," Gregory insists. "It's
going to be a baby with teeth."