The airline, serviced by McCann, is undergoing a complete identity overhaul. Under Tata’s monetary charisma, will the brand retain its lost glory?
Founded in 1932 by entrepreneur J.R.D Tata, Air India pioneered, and potentially kickstarted the Indian aviation industry. The decades that followed saw the airline maintain a strong presence in the sector, with its signature Maharajah mascot wooing flyers from across the country.
But more recently, the company has had one too many troubles between debt, year-on-year losses, and passenger mishaps, among other controversies. Things seem to have taken a positive turn for the once widely appreciated airline. With Tata’s takeover in 2022, a complete makeover is in the plans.
The company is now undergoing a rebranding exercise, with its creative mandate assigned to McCann Worldgroup India. But what could be the foundational changes that could muster the most favourable outcome for the brand?
KV ‘Pops’ Sridhar, global chief creative officer, Nihilent & Hypercollective, believes that the brand needs to walk away from its old ‘colonial’ aura and embrace the new India where convenience and comfort are demanded by flyers of all walks of life. He says, “The opportunity here is to conform to the new India and create an airline of global competence. But Air India needs to let its history go. The times of air travel as a medium being restricted to royalties are gone.”
The aviation company is now taking noticeable strides towards a more optimistic future under the Tata Group. Just last year, the airline revealed its plans to land as many as 500 jetliners, which could cost well over $100 billion, according to industry estimates. Tata has also announced the plans to merge Air India with Vistara, in a bid to take on the international aviation market.
With the Air India and Vistara merger in the works, Pops sees a glorious chance for Tata to birth an airline that can represent India globally. “If there’s anyone who can do it, it has to be Tata.”
Regardless of the choice of agency, coming up with new propositions, brand identity, and communication, has a huge potential for Air India.Manish Porwal, managing director, Alchemist Marketing Solutions
According to Manish Porwal, the Managing Director of Alchemist Marketing Solutions, the airline industry is typically very glamorous in its appeal. With Tata taking over the airline, Porwal opines that there is optimism surrounding the future of the company, with consumers perceivably more trusting of the proposition that the airline may put forth.
“The fact that Tata has taken over, people will be more ready to believe a lot of good news from the company. Regardless of the choice of agency, coming up with new propositions, brand identity, and communication, has a huge potential for Air India. There needs to be a lot of emphasis on the products as well. As things stand, there is a stark opinion amongst the flyers about the services of the airline, with some people loving the fact that the brand is trying to retain its traditional identity, while others wish to see things evolve.”
Amar Wadhwa, the founder and executive director of CrystalEyes, lays out some crucial changes that Air India must undertake to make the rebranding worthwhile. With the company aiming to move past its days of frequent monetary problems, passenger mishaps, and service complaints, Wadhwa believes that the rebranding could spark a more productive business for Air India.
The Maharaja will need to be conceived in a modern avatar that delivers to the needs and desires of the well-heeled frequent flier. This aspirational target group should be the one that they should see as the bull's eye.Amar Wadhwa, founder & executive director, CrystalEyes
He says, “Air India has been beleaguered with many a controversy in the recent months which has further impacted its brand equity. (With the rebranding) It is important that Air India carries forward the Indian ethos of Atithi Devo Bhava and makes its service its key differentiator. This would make it a compelling option versus its global competitors. Air India will have to make a complete makeover on the fleet, people and service front and then embellish it with powerful communication.”
Air India’s signature mascot, Maharajah, represents the genesis of India’s commercial aviation when flights were a thing only the rich and royal could afford. But that is something that needs to be put to bed, or at least redesigned, as per Wadhwa.
He suggests, “The Maharaja will need to be conceived in a modern avatar that delivers to the needs and desires of the well-heeled frequent flier. This aspirational target group should be the one that they should see as the bull's eye. If you can win them over, you’ll be able to win everyone else.”
Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO, Mirum India, believes that Air India’s legacy is not something they should necessarily do away with, but the company needs to refresh its identity to woo the new India. “There is value in Air India’s legacy, being one of the brands that pioneered the Indian aviation industry. But the market has evolved, so the brand should put in efforts to look younger, smarter and more tech-savvy.”
Real change on the ground is going to take some time. Their aircrafts are old, and replacing them with a new fleet is going to take a lot of time. There could be an expectation mismatch if one is looking for something to change overnight.Sanjay Mehta, joint CEO, Mirum India
There is a lot of excitement about the brand since the Tata takeover. But Mehta points out that the industry isn’t short-termed, and it takes a lot of time for airlines to establish themselves as viable options.
He says, “Brand needs to have a long-term view of itself, and people need to be patient. Real change on the ground is going to take some time. Their aircrafts are old, and replacing them with a new fleet is going to take a lot of time. There could be an expectation mismatch if one is looking for something to change overnight.”
While some enthusiasts are excited about the Vistara-Air India merger, many others hold strong reservations against joining the two airlines. Tarun Singh Chauhan, partner, TSC Consulting, opines that the merger is a bad idea.
“Why would you kill a premium airline by merging it with a dead-and-gone fleet? The company needs to prioritise its services first. Air India needs to sort out its planes, seats, crew, and practically revamp everything. Merging the two airlines makes no sense. It is a process that will take at least five to eight years to see through. In the meantime, don’t kill Vistara.”