TDS N. America 2016

October 2016, Las Vegas

Alaska Airlines aims high with a big and bold brand revamp

In the most substantial update to its brand in 25 years, a fast-growing US-based airline is looking for justice from the market

Alaska Airlines has been in the business for over 80 years and in the past five has added 90 new markets. But it seems that winning awards and building a loyal following just isn’t quite enough to win kudos in today’s highly competitive airline market.

“The way we showed up just didn’t do justice to our outstanding reputation and guest experience,” says Sangita Woerner, VP Marketing, Alaska Airlines. “And more than that, it held us back from receiving the credit and national exposure [we believe] we deserved.”

To address the issue Alaska Airlines set to work with brand experience design agency Hornall Anderson on a rebranding revamp that involved visual, verbal, and emotive storytelling. Working together, the team started, says Woerner, “by honing in on the secret behind Alaska’s success and defining what makes the airline so loved”.

Next came defining this into a long-term strategy - one that resonated emotionally with employees and customers, provided direction and inspiration for creative expression, and created strong focus for decision-making going forward. 

The mission was clear: “to show the world what Alaska customers have known for a long time that this is an airline dedicated to understanding flyers’ needs, and to doing what it takes to give them the best experience possible”.

That may sound a bit like a marketing puff but, says Woerner, it required a real transformation of the way flyers interact with the brand. And this meant a complete redesign of everything from the airplane livery to bag tags. Two of the biggest changes to Alaska’s visual identity were a bold, new design of its name, aka ‘wordmark’, and the iconic Eskimo that has graced the tails of its planes since the early 1970s.

One storytelling move was to launch a microsite to introduce a broader audience to the new, revamped Alaska story.

“With the flyer’s perspective in mind, the site takes the viewer on a literal journey from the air to the ground, beginning with the brand’s purest expression—the new plane flying proudly in the sky,” says Woerner.

Social media plays a role “in the descent” where “accolades and love letters”, pulled from Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other media, tell the positive customer experience story.

The Eskimo, on the tail of the aircraft, has always been a key part of flyers relationship with the brand.

“To some, there was something about him that connected to the spirit of the airline; to many others, he’s been a source of mystery, confusion and speculation,” explains Woerner, adding that, “we harnessed this affection and intrigue to create a video that tells his story”.

In the three days after launch, the video was viewed over 300,000 times, she says.  

Following the launch a second video was shared showing a behind the scenes look at the painting of the new livery and this video, according to Woerner, was watched over 750,000 times taking overall views well past the million mark. 

Key performance indicators included:

  • Making the invisible, visible: conveying the idea, feeling and magic of the brand to people who have never flown with us.

  • Building from existing strengths to create a brand that is both nationally relevant and locally loved

  • Creating an energetic and compelling brand that employees are inspired by and proud of.

So far it is too early to say what the impact has been on bookings, but do watch this space. 

David Bates, the creative director at Hornall Anderson and Sangita Woerner, VP Marketing, Alaska Airlines will be sharing more insights into the campaign at TDS North America Oct 6-7

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