Analysis: Why BA has designs on a global brand - British Airways’ multimillion pound redesign signals a shift to a global strategy, but is the move toward a culturally diverse branding part of a wider re-evaluation of British corporate identity, a

The corporate identity which will take British Airways into the next millennium has been the subject of fevered media speculation. Even before the public had an inkling of what was to come, the media was lambasting the airline for betraying its British roots and for wasting millions on design when cost savings threatened thousands of jobs.

The corporate identity which will take British Airways into the

next millennium has been the subject of fevered media speculation. Even

before the public had an inkling of what was to come, the media was

lambasting the airline for betraying its British roots and for wasting

millions on design when cost savings threatened thousands of jobs.

The reality is that, far from playing down its Britishness, the airline

hopes its new look symbolises modern Britain. Cultural diversity,

creativity and innovative flair are the watchwords of Blair’s Britain

and BA hopes its new design, by Newell & Sorrell, captures this


Unveiled on Tuesday in a simultaneous broadcast in 63 countries, the new

look is also one of the most daring implementations of a new corporate

identity and marks an important departure from previous high-profile


Instead of a rigid application of a uniform identity, Newell & Sorrell

has not been afraid to vary the execution, resulting in a changing look

but with a consistent feel. The consistency comes from the clearly

recognisable version of its traditional logo, and the variety from a

gallery of images from around the world, which BA hopes will reflect its

growing global personality.

The airline is planning a total of 50 ’world images’, commissioned from

artists from the UK to the Kalahari Desert. This week, it unveils the

first 15. Over the next three years these will be introduced across the

company, on aircraft, signage and stationery, to establish it as ’an

airline of the world, for the world - based in Britain’.

The airline has also updated its logo. It has set the company name in a

softer, rounder typeface and replaced the rigid, two-dimensional

Speedwing with a three-dimensional two-colour symbol, which it hopes

will become recognisable.

British Airways admits the project is costing millions - pounds 2m to

design and a further pounds 60m to implement. The ideas behind the look

also form the core of a new direction in BA’s multimillion-pound

marketing strategy.

Flag of many colours

Undoubtedly there will be some people who hate it. In adopting an

unusually open policy for its launch, the company risks tabloid ridicule

and the antagonism of customers who disapprove of, or are confused by,

the brightly coloured images which seem far from the airline’s

establishment roots.

Leaked information anticipating the new identity would downplay its

Britishness has sparked debate about the value of national identity in

the world market.

While the royal crest and the British flag in its pure form are notably

absent from the design, British Airways is at pains to point out that it

is not divorcing itself from its roots.

The name remains, and will stay, says marketing director Martin George,

regardless of its planned alliance with American Airlines.’Research has

told us that we have to preserve the individual identity of the two

airlines,’ he said.

The new identity also retains elements of the flag - the new BA blue has

been chosen for its similarity to Union Jack blue, as has the

combination of a red and blue logo against a white background used on

the aircraft.

Concorde, the flagship of the BA fleet, has been chosen to carry one of

the four UK designs, the Union Flag, a simple red, white and blue

graphic with obvious links to the British national flag.

’In the past, Britishness was represented by the Royal Family and the

class system,’ says George. ’New Britain is about a multicultural

society and the country as a leader in arts and fashion. I think our

identity represents that. I think it updates the image of Britain.’

Today, 50% of British Airways passengers come from outside the UK, where

the feedback on the identity has been positive. ’When you make a radical

change it is inevitable some people will respond negatively, but the

majority of feedback has been positive,’ says George.

The airline has used the launch as part of its internal motivation

programme, briefing its 57,000 staff worldwide ahead of the press

launch, despite the risk of further leaks. Among staff, response was

most positive outside the UK. In the UK, however, 30% remain sceptical

and the airline accepts it is bound to spark controversy, especially as

ground and cabin staff are threatening strike action over plans to

contract out services to cut costs.

The airline’s last livery, designed by Landor, was unveiled 14 years

ago. The company admits that this look began to lose relevance in 1992

although a new brief was not issued until 1995. The Landor look made BA

appear too harsh, echoing aggressive Thatcherite values rather than the

softer feel of the 90s. As it tried to shake off the infamous ’dirty

tricks’ tag, this was a negative association BA could do without.

Pioneering spirit

The new identity, while pioneering a friendly, warm feel for the

airline, seems to owe its origins to 90s images of community and


But how long is its lifespan - especially if it spawns, as must be

anticipated, a rash of imitators?

Although the company will not be tied down to an answer, it believes the

in-built adaptability of the identity will boost its longevity.

’There is a built-in flexibility to it which means we are capable of

infinite development of the image,’ says George. ’It is a long way from

the corporate dog tags of the past. Yet it is only the fact that we are

approaching it from a position of credibility that makes it


Internally, the identity spearheads the new strategic direction of the

airline and is being used to front a pounds 6bn three-year programme of

investment in brands, products and service across the company.

Prior to privatisation of the airline in 1986, it set itself the

objective of being the ’best and most successful company in the airline


The new look is a visual promise of its 1997 goal - ’to become the

undisputed leader in world travel’.

This means growing from an airline to a world travel expert. The airline

has already launched photographic services, travel products and

financial services, all appropriate to the new identity.

As BA managing director Bob Ayling announced at the press launch on


’It goes much deeper than the paint on the aircraft or the ink on our

publications. It is the physical manifestation of a fundamental review

of our mission, our values and our corporate goals.’


Peter York, social commentator, aka Peter Wallis, founder of SRU

Consultants: ’It is very singular, brave and original. It is an

interesting variation to the traditional corporate identity formula. I

think BA will get a huge amount of flak, but given what it wants to do I

am sympathetic to the arguments it is putting forward.’

Nigel Semmens - head of press and PR at the British Council: ’This is a

real move forward for Britain. It gives the message that we have a

contemporary society and captures our cultural diversity. It shows there

is more to Britain than Beefeaters. It’s not an un-British identity. It

reflects that our society is cosmopolitan, diverse and dynamic.’

Sebastian Conran - Product Identity Design: ’I’m knocked out by this -

it’s one of the boldest designs I have seen in a long time. It’s a

manifestation of the future Britain and is right for its time. It gives

the aircraft a personality. It has dignity and is classy.’

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