Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kingfisher Vs Air Deccan - Losing my plane !!

This is a story that can make branding history and... theories !!

Capt. Gopinath scripted a story and a dream for the common man to fly. He revolutionized the airline industry by innovatively finding ways to cut cost and offer flying experience to the society which had only dreamed to fly till then. I have seen happy families booking air tickets for their vacations, which was never a consideration before.

Those two hands, the blue and yellow uniform and the beautifully made TV advertisement capturing the emotions of a father-son
relationship - everything made Air Deccan a household name and a very dear one at that in the thousands of homes in the sub-tier II cities. Finally, flying was perceived (at least) to be affordable.

Then you have Mr. Vijay Mallya - magnificent in his attitude and high life - launching a super luxury airline company by the name of India biggest bear brand "Kingfisher". This airline is a complete contrast to Air Deccan. Video screens at the back of every seat, multiple cuisine option, fashion show on the flight and what say you - Kingfisher Airlines oozed frills, luxury and comfort. The brand philosophy behind launching such an airline company was so strong that Mr. Mallya had openly claimed in media that low cost airlines cannot survive.

As fate would have it or Mr. Mallya's vision, Kingfisher Airlines bought 46% of stake in Air Deccan and shortly after both these diverse entities merged into a single entity based on reports by management consulting firm Accenture that recommended their merger for greater operational and marketing synergies.

The merged entity (which would be Kingfisher) would offer low fare service under the Deccan brand and premium services under Kingfisher brand. By the meaning of the statement, it sounded good and logical strategy.

But the meaning was not to be implemented. I was shocked to my wits when I went to the airport last month. The Air Deccan counter no longer had the beautiful and very unique and very familiar blue and yellow uniform. It was replaced by 'RED'. I logged on to and I could not recognise the site. It had become all red. Air Deccan had already become Kingfisher. To me, it was quite sad and a hasty brand management decision.

My questions are simple.
  • Was there a need to tamper with the brand - Air Deccan? Was Mr. Gopinath so wrong in his positioning strategies that all his good branding/advertising work had to be mutilated to no recognition (that too in his presence as the Vice-Chairman of the merged company)? Especially when the intention is to have a low cost airline.
  • How do you associate the colour red - the colour of Kingfisher Airlines - to the proposition of low cost airline?
  • Would it not negatively rub-off the Kingfisher brand? Would it not make the Kingfisher loyalist feel hurt about lending its premium red colour to a low cost, poor service, poor man's airline? How can 'red' be low cost?
  • How would it benefit Kingfisher and Vijay Mallya? Of course, short term ego would be boosted. He always believed that low cost airlines cant survive and he proved to be right and could changed and redesign a low cost airline brand completely. Having said that, how would rebranding Air Deccan to look similar to Kingfisher help Kingfisher in the long run?
  • Would it not confuse both the Kingfisher 'king' and Air Deccan 'rural india' to no ends? Both these distinct target audiences would be lost in the bargain.

What I can understand is that there can never be two kings in a kingdom. How can the consumer be the king, when Mr. Vijay Mallya is the self-acclaimed king.

Ultimately, Kingfisher's strategy might work out successfully. Who knows !! But if it does, it will surely create new branding theories !!!

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