CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/BMIBABY - Bmibaby's advertising will have to differentiate it from its rivals, Jenny Watts says

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

rising profits.

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

affairs, says.

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

Airways parent.

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."

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