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
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
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
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.
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.’
WHAT THE PEOPLE SAY ...
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.’