Tyler Brule is well-established as a journalist, publisher and
style guru. But from this week he is officially a marketer. Brule's
Wallpaper magazine was the style bible of the late 1990s. He encouraged
us to varnish our floorboards, embrace digital technology and adopt the
sleek, minimal style of dressing beloved by Prada. Snapped up by Time
Life a few years back, Wallpaper is now a global publishing
And now Brule's Wink Media consultancy has broken into branding big time
by relaunching and redesigning what will be Europe's fourth largest
airline - Swiss. Since its inception in 1998, Wink Media has produced
some advertising and a customer magazine for Selfridges, and come up
with logo and packaging designs for Stella McCartney and Kurt Geiger,
but this project is of a different league.
The consultancy fought off competition from around 40 agencies to win
the lead role in the £22m task of resurrecting Switzerland's
national carrier. Swiss rises out of the ashes of Swissair and its
subsidiary Crossair, which so spectacularly went bankrupt last October.
It will begin flying at the end of March.
Apart from the rather uninspiring paint job on the planes, Wink will be
redesigning the airline's interiors, passenger lounges, web site and
staff uniforms. "The beast becomes bigger everyday," says Brule
excitedly. "We're currently putting together ideas for a customer
magazine and some creative ideas for its advertising."
So how did all this come about? "When I heard about the collapse of
Swissair, I penned an article in a Swiss newspaper decrying the death of
such a great brand. Andre Dose (Crossair's chief executive officer and
now chief executive of Swiss) read it and called me in."
"He recognised that our journalistic background uniquely qualified us
for a task which requires a distinctive point of view and the ability to
work to tight deadlines." Brule says he personally, desperately wanted
the business. Although a Canadian, who developed his journalistic career
in the UK, Brule has often expressed his love for Switzerland, devoting
an entire issue of Wallpaper to the nation last year. He also lives for
travel. "It was a childhood dream to design an airline. Now I want to
make it the world's singular premium travel brand," he says.
Why the rather tame logo then? Would people even notice the difference
from the now defunct Swissair?
"We've just cleaned it up a little. Wallpaper and Wink have always been
based on good solid, basic graphic design. The Swiss flag is a metaphor
and will be used in the advertising. There's a trend to make airline
liveries look like whales in a marine park or something, but this is a
national flag carrier. It's backed by major Swiss corporations like
Nestle and Novartis and we need to restore faith in the
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the project is its holistic
nature. Wink is getting involved in every aspect of the relaunch, right
down to sourcing the architects for the passenger lounge and the
suppliers of food, wine and cutlery. "The classic design agencies who we
pitched against weren't thinking through the strategy. We realised we
needed to use Swiss suppliers to revamp the airline in every detail.
Swiss is about quality products. And our intelligence network can
identify these people."
When asked about an analogy of a British company that has achieved this
type of holistic, nationalistic brand approach, Brule surprisingly
points to high street stalwart Marks & Spencer. "In the late 1980s and
early 1990s M&S used to have a consistent touch and feel that was
distinctly British and of a high quality. Later on it lost this focus
and lost its way," he says.
Above all Brule is bringing to the project his belief in what he calls
'dependable, democratic design', which may well find resonance in a
polarising airline market. "The low-cost carriers have changed the
business. Swiss isn't going to be budget, so we're concentrating on
service. But while we will give premium passengers more room and choice,
economy passengers will be treated with equal dignity. I want Swiss to
be an adjective for premium air travel."
So after all this brand strategy stuff, does Brule now see himself as a
fully-fledged marketer? "I've never put myself in that camp, but the
airline has started to use me in that way. My involvement is very
strategic and we're closely involved in the marketing
"Tyler brings the most incredibly confident and cultured eye to the
table," says MT Rainey, joint chief executive of Rainey Kelly Campbell
Roalfe/Y&R, who has worked with Brule in the past. "Big companies tend
to be very slow on the future-focused side of things. Tyler is not
data-driven and doesn't rely on the usual laborious, mechanistic
process. Instead he encourages companies to be highly current, modern
and ahead of the game," she says.
Swissair was always associated with service. Its replacement could soon
gain a reputation for style.
So if you're returning from Zurich this summer, hide that souvenir
cuckoo clock inside your Mandarina Duck handbag, relax with some Lindt
chocolate and trust the airline won't go bust again.
1989-1992: TV reporter, BBC, ABC, Sky, Fox
1992-1996: Freelance writer, Elle, The Guardian, Sunday Times
1996: Launches Wallpaper
2000: Launches Line
2001: Launches Spruce
2002: Rebrands Swiss airline