Long live the Maharaja.
Air India’s 60-year-old iconic mascot, whose future was in jeopardy following the government’s decision to merge the international carrier with Indian, the domestic airline, will now represent the new merged entity.
“The Maharaja mascot will be retained after necessary tweaking to represent the merger and the current context (of the new brand in the industry),” said S. Venkat, executive director, Air India.
The Maharaja is one of the most recognisable mascots in the country and abroad, even if it sometimes represents an airline to avoid because of its service quality.
But, there appears to be a consensus among Air India and Indian boards that keeping him as the representative of the new merged company will help in terms of brand recall among consumers. The government is likely to invest heavily in refurbishing the brand image of the Maharaja.
“The Maharaja has a very strong brand equity and recall among its patrons. There is no point in investing in creating a new brand from scratch,” said a senior executive of the advertising agency which is handling the advertising and brand communications for the brand.
“A joint advertising budget of Rs75 crore has been earmarked for marketing initiatives that will include advertising on mass platforms such as television and print and new media vehicles such as the Internet and out-of-home (outdoor) advertising,” said Venkat. The budget represents 0.5% of the total operating costs, estimated to be Rs15,000 crore for both airlines. Boeing, which will supply planes to the merged entity, also plans to allocate Rs9 crore for its own publicity efforts revolving around the new airline, Venkat added.
Air India has spent around Rs6-8 crore on its advertising in recent years.
A section in the advertising industry, however, feels that aggressive branding and advertising may be useless if the new merged entity fails to offer quality service and meet consumer expectations, both of which have been issues dogging the perception of Air India and Indian.
“Air India and Indian are still perceived as government-run companies and their brand perception among consumers doesn’t seem to be too good,” said Hemant Mishra, senior vice-president at JWT, an advertising agency.
Gullu Sen, vice-chairman and chief creative officer, Dentsu India, also says that the two airlines need to concentrate more on the services they provide to the consumers than their logos.
“What Indian Airlines and Air India need to do through their advertising is convince their consumers about the changes in their delivery processes,” he said.
Mudra handles advertising for Air India while Indian’s campaigns are managed by R.K. Swamy/BBDO. A decision on which agency will handle the account of the merged entity hasn’t yet been taken.
“We are in talks with our client for the big campaign that will reflect the major plans for the airline,” said a senior executive from Mudra Group who did not want to be named.
The airlines have also hired Alia Group, a Mumbai-based brand-consulting company, for on-ground branding exercise. “Alia group is already working on new layouts for the airport lounges, boarding cards, menus, cutlery, livery and upholstery designs for the new company,” said a top executive in advertising industry, who is close to the development but didn’t want to be identified.
Indian had changed its name from Indian Airlines to Indian just recently, in 2006, and, at the time, it had spent around Rs1.5 crore on the rebranding effort. “It is sad but also a part of a broader game plan for the airline,” said Ajit Shah, executive director, R.K. Swamy/BBDO.
However, it is likely that the orange-and-white colors used by Indian will be used in the logo and livery of the merged airline, said a senior executive, who is part of the discussion on the new branding initative.