Agency: Grey London
marketingmagazine.co.uk, Wednesday, 14 September 2011 12:00AM
If the only consideration were Airmiles' English-speaking customer base, my answer would be 'yes, big mistake'.
Airmiles was a great idea. It was instantly understandable, appealing at the point of launch and created a sense of immediate engagement in its potential customer base.
The beauty is that it is not just another random currency with a clever name, but a clear proposition. It 'does what it says on the tin'.
Not so with Avios, but then Airmiles doesn't translate into Spanish and I see why change might be necessary in a merger, where not alienating one population by enforcing the customs of another is what matters.
I suspect regular flyers will convert relatively easily and soon learn the exchange rates, but I suppose I'm left wondering how motivating 600 Avios on my petrol is going to be. From a brand point of view, the loss of the Airmiles name should be mourned, even if I can see, from a business point of view, why IAG is doing it.
It was to be expected that BA and Iberia's frequent-traveller programmes would be merged to encourage the use of the wider route network by regular air travellers. The surprise is that the Airmiles consumer collecting programme is to share the same currency and be rebranded Avios.
Some customers and their families, who are in both the BA Executive Club programme and Airmiles, will clearly benefit, and consumers will adjust to the change in mileage structure, and also benefit from flight upgrades.
The downside for regular Airmiles collectors is that they will have to pay a minimum of £27 tax for their flight redemptions, and this will put some of them off, when rival programmes such as Nectar provide free rewards.
I am sure if IAG were able to use the Airmiles name across Europe, it would. Sadly, the compromise of Avios sounds weak and lacks the distinctiveness of Airmiles and its flying boat logo.
It is 'adios' to Airmiles, a pioneering brand that has been in the consumer consciousness for more than 20 years.
In its place is Avios. This is a rebranding that fails to communicate its proposition as clearly. Also, without a transition campaign planned, Airmiles has saddled itself with the need for a complex explanation to existing customers - there are scheme changes as well as a new name. For potential customers, it is now building a brand from scratch, with none of the positive awareness and history that has been built up over the years.
This looks like a corporate rather than a consumer-oriented decision.
It wraps up three existing programmes: UK Airmiles, BA Executive Club and Iberia Plus. The launch also requires a re-education of members with a fresh zone map and new fees and charges.
Members will have their miles balance multiplied by 10 initially, which is a positive hook, but the reason for the renaming, as far as consumers are concerned, remains unclear.
A change like this is often done because you want global alignment; if this is the reason, and you're prepared to invest and plan how to attract people to the brand, you can make it work.
If it is just that you 'need a shot in the arm', you should be careful. The Post Office had a good name with heritage and respect and tried to change, and 15 months later, it returned, red-faced, to its original brand.
With the merger between BA and Iberia, there is a need for an international brand. With a change in business model, there's a reason to relaunch and give the scheme its own identity, beyond the airline. How much equity is there in the Airmiles brand anyway?
IAG must, however, support the rebrand sensitively when it comes to core customers and invest in communicating with them. It can't expect people to make the leap unaided; it must treat them as grown-ups.
The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership. www.marketing-society.org.uk
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk