AMR Corp.'s American Airlines today unveiled a marketing campaign to tout its new look and logo, the first change to its iconic branding in almost 45 years.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based flier, the third-largest airline in the country in terms of revenue passenger miles, is in the process of emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection just as it faces increased pressure from its three major unions to merge with US Airways. The carrier is also taking delivery of 59 new aircraft this year out of a record-setting order of 550 aircraft placed in 2011 to help replace its aging fleet, including two new 777-300 aircraft that go into service on Jan. 31.
"That's what really drove the timing," said Virasb Vahidi, American's senior VP-chief commercial officer, in an interview with AdAge.com. "It's another proof point in the modernization of our company."
American worked with FutureBrand on the design changes. The first spot from agency of record McCann Worldgroup, a 60-second commercial entitled "Change is in the Air," featuring a voice-over by "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm, will debut tonight. Mr. Hamm is an American Airlines frequent flier, and his Don Draper adman character has often talked of aspiring to win such accounts as American Airlines. The spot shows a waitress, a man wiping snow off his car, a football player at practice, a man cleaning his pool and others in different spots all over the world suddenly stopping what they are doing and looking skyward as an American Airlines jet with the new markings flies overhead.
"The idea of it was to bring back the wonder of travel," said Daryl Lee, global chief strategy Officer at McCann. "We're so oblivious to the fact that we can get on a plane and go anywhere in the world anytime we want. We wanted to bring that amazement, that wow factor."
Mr. Vahidi declined to comment on American's ad spending. According to Kantar Media, the company spent $29.8 million in measured media from January 2012 through October of last year, a figure that projects out to roughly $40 million for the full year. Still, that's a far cry from the $70 million American spent in 2011. It's also worth noting that there are no airlines in Ad Age's DataCenter list of the top 100 Leading National Advertisers.
As for the design, gone is the recognizable "AA" logo on the tail wing, which American has used since 1968. The tail, with white paint and deeper shades of red and blue, now will evoke the American flag, which was done on purpose, Mr. Vahidi said.
"Any time this plane lands anywhere in the world, we want to make people understand this was the new American and that this plane was from America," he said, a bold statement considering there is still lingering anti-U.S. sentiment in some countries. In addition, the airline's new flight symbol will be an updated eagle inside a red-and-blue stripe.
As the ad campaign evolves from awareness of the new look to branding, with iterations on TV, print, digital and social media, there will also be a new tagline.
Mr. Vahidi declined to say what it would be; while Mr. Lee would only say that "I wish I could tell you because it's friggin' awesome."
Analysts and industry observers say American did well for itself to reorganize while in bankruptcy, though detractors are quick to point out that part of that was due to slashing jobs and renegotiating existing labor contracts. American on Wednesday reported a $262 million fourth-quarter profit, though without several one-time gains such as reorganization credits and income tax benefits, it would have been an $88 million loss. Still, even that is leaps and bounds greater than the $1.1 billion loss American took in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Its unions say the carrier could do even better by merging with US Airways, much as United did with Continental and Delta with Northwest. United and Delta are the Nos. 1 and 2 airlines in the country in revenue passenger miles.
Allied Pilots Association spokesman Dennis Tajer told the Dallas Morning News, "A new paint job is fine but it does not fix American's network deficiencies and toxic culture, so we continue our steadfast support of a merger with US Airways and not doubling down on the network strategy that brought us into bankruptcy. American's network needs more than cosmetic changes to compete with Delta and United; simply put, it needs to merge with US Airways now."
In a statement, Leslie Mayo of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said, "We hope this rebranding is the first of many steps toward making American Airlines a company that we can be proud to work for and one that can grow and compete in today's marketplace. That can only happen with a merger inside bankruptcy."
AMR Corp. management has expressed an interest in remaining independent, even though a merged American-US Airways would become the No. 1 airline in the country. Whether or not this new marketing campaign helps bring in more customers and can play a role in that decision remains to be seen. A merged company would still be known as American Airlines, hence the decision to go forth with a new design look and advertising blitz.
"What we've said repeatedly is we are looking for an outcome that creates the most value for our stakeholders," Mr. Vahidi said. "We know the new American will be a profitable company, but the question is whether a merger will make us even stronger. That's what we're evaluating. In the meantime we're going to run our business, and this is part of running our business."