After a painful, 19-month restructuring effort, Delta Airlines emerged from bankruptcy this week. The milestone came after Delta slashed $3 billion worth of annual expenses and trimmed its domestic schedule to focus on more-lucrative international routes, but It would be a stretch to say that the revamped airline is now in the clear -- as signaled by the fact that when Delta's shares resumed trading yesterday, they did so at a price slightly below management's expecations. Yet to usher in the new beginning, Delta also launched a rebranding campaign spearheded by the creative agency Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky in New York, and the most visible component of that effort is an all-new livery that will be applied to the airline's planes over the course of the next few years.
Delta's old logo (left) versus the new.
This is something that airlines do from time to time. Occasionally their efforts are wildly succesful -- recall the blue-ball design Landor Associates created for Pan Am, or Raymond Loewy's twin-globe design for TWA, or the 1968 bare-aluminum livery that's still used by American Airlines. But many attempts to freshen-up an airline's appearance themselves seem dated before too long. (United's mid-1990's blue-grey livery comes to mind -- it somehow managed to make a 747 look like a dreary cubicle farm.) According to Delta's press release, the centerpiece of the new look is "a striking three-dimensional, red “Widget” icon flying across a blue background that reflects the company’s successful transformation into a highly differentiated, customer-focused airline."
Exactly how one makes the conceptual leap from a cubist Widget to a highly differentiated, customer-focused flight experience remains something of a mystery to us, alas, so Telstar Logistics packed a lunch and set out on the Internets to see what others had to say about Delta's new look.
Jonberrydesign thinks Delta threw the baby out with the bathwater and ended up with something bland and soulless:
All I see when I see the plane is the Citgo logo. The new Delta typography is nice, but looks strangely like a second-rate clone of United's typography. While their upper and lower case serifed "Delta" may not have been as strong, it did stand apart from the typical all-caps sans-serif airline type that most airlines use and helped to project Delta's "friendly" image. Several years ago, Delta adopted a visual identity whose hallmark was flowing fabric in red, white, and blue. They beautifully applied this to their planes to create one of my favorite tailfins anywhere. Any company that can clearly brand itself without having to even use their logo has made a bold statement. Delta's current look achieved that on everything from its planes to signage to its website. Delta has decided to walk away from that confidence in favor of a more flashy alternative. The company's fact sheet is clearly defensive about dropping the existing identity. Two thirds of the facts defend the new look as requiring fewer paint colors, less time to paint a plane, and even requiring 171 pounds less paint - equivalent to one passenger, they say. I suppose they figure favorable figures for beancounters are a reasonable justification for bad design.
Oh snap! But not everyone agrees; with only 19 ballots cast, one non-scientific Web-based poll suggests the new look may be more popular than the old.
Dispensatory Rhetoric likes the clean appearance of the new livery, but thinks the execution of the rollout was cheezy:
What stood out to me wasn't just the sparse design of Delta's new livery (which saves Delta money because it uses less paint), but the bad puns on the site's home page and the press release announcing their emergence and rebranding. "'Brand' new era," "chapter of success." Who works for these guys?
The Hot Iron has some shrewd insights about what really matters to airline ticketbuyers:
The physical airplane is the last step of the customer experience with the airlines. And my only close-up view of the airplane is very limited, when I am at the gate just about to board the plane. Sure, I may see other planes out the window of the plane I am currently on, but do I look out and say, “oh, I want to fly that airline, they have cooler colors?” By the time I am on the plane, I have made my decision who to fly, paid for my ticket and am ready to get to my destination.
I see the airline industry in line with the retail banking industry, where they change names, rebrand, throw big parties, but what really changes? Is service improved, both in quality and cost of delivery? Can I get personalized service and have a personal relationship with either? How will a new logo on a sign in an airport and a new coat of paint on a plane make a difference to me, the consumer?
Being in total agreement on this last point, let's let that be the final word.
Delta Airlines New Brand Factsheet (PDF download)