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Airport branding is the new rage

By Neha Kalra , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | June 24, 2008
With four major airports in the country being branded, the competition in this sector is hotting up

We have & #BANNER1 & # seen new brands take shape and old brands put on a new face. But for the first time in Indian history, airports, the gateway to a city, are being treated as brands. Four airports are being branded currently, Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. The exercise has been taken up by the Bengaluru based brand consultancy, Ray+Keshavan.

What about conflict of interest with one agency handling all four airports? Sujata Keshavan, managing director and executive creative director, Ray+Keshavan, says, "We clarify to our clients beforehand that we cannot offer them exclusivity. Each of them was aware that we were working on more than one project in the same category."

Keshavan says that airports, by their very nature, don't compete with one another, unlike, say, the cola majors, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Exclusivity is vital in the FMCG sector and companies in that sector are paranoid about competition, she says. She recounts an incident when her agency was offered work on Tata Tea, but had to turn down the offer because it was already working at the time on a Hindustan Unilever Ltd tea brand.

A study was commissioned by Bengaluru International Airport Ltd (BIAL) and conducted by Ray+Keshavan for the Bengaluru International Airport. Anjana, head, corporate communications, BIAL, says, "The results showed that the new airport had to reflect all that the city stood for." Accordingly, the logo of the airport and its terminal design represent Bengaluru's lakes, gardens and pleasant climate.

Says Vijay Vancheswar, group head and vice-president, corporate communications, GMR Group, which has developed and modernized the Delhi and Hyderabad airports, "Branding will become very important in times to come because air traffic is witnessing growth at the higher end of double-digit figures."

He explains, "Airports are touch points for passengers and users. This creates huge impact in terms of the passengers' emotional, psychological and physical experiences. Therefore, branding is an essential element in providing the desired experience and recall."

Thus, the issue is one of positioning airports as important destinations beyond mere transportation. With the privatisation of airports, developers are focusing on providing passengers a qualitatively rich experience. The result is increased competition among the airports. In this scenario, branding is important because it creates differentiators. Prior to the branding initiative of the airports, the differentiators were largely basic issues such as managing the functional needs of passengers while they were in the airport and capitalising on airport locations to generate larger non-aeronautical revenue streams such as retail and commercial business opportunities.

Talking about the branding initiative at the Delhi and Hyderabad airports, Vancheswar says, "We have tried to highlight the basic ethos, culture and the distinct character of the location in the branding."

Mumbai International Airport (Pvt.) Ltd (MIAL) came out with a logo in August 2006. The logo is in the form of a peacock feather with CSIA (Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport) inscribed within it. The new identity denotes pride in India, focusing on people and providing quality service and global standards. "We wish to give it (the airport) the vibrancy of India, and Mumbai in particular. While being traditionally Indian, the logo bears a very contemporary look," says Manish Kalghatgi, general manager, corporate communications, MIAL.

Arvind Hegde, senior consultant, Ray+Keshavan, says the privatisation of the airports has led to a strategic shift. He says the city, its culture, its personality and the holding company were all kept in mind while finalising a strategy for each airport. Mumbai is depicted as a gateway to Indianness. BIAL is depicted as a gateway to South India. Delhi and Hyderabad are depicted on the basis of their environmental graphics.

Hegde suggests five positioning possibilities - on the basis of infrastructure, product, execution and skills, personality and vision. He cites several examples from abroad. The Atlanta airport, he says, is an example of an airport that is robust in infrastructure and size. The airports at Amsterdam and Changi are based on strong product concepts. The Frankfurt airport depicts efficiency in skills. Perth has a personality based airport. The airports in Hong Kong and Brussels are strategised on the larger causes of improving the economy and helping Europe, respectively.

Hegde says he believes that it is necessary to socialize the airport brand with its consumers. According to him, once each airport takes it final shape, collectively, they will improve the image of the country. As in other cases, branding will create value for the owners and add to their reputation.

With airport branding in its nascent stage, one can only see a rise in the competition among private owners, with each one trying to make its property bigger than the others.

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