The "greatest airline" brand means...

December 12, 2013

Earlier this week I was listening to an interview on NPR with the “new” American Airlines CEO, Doug Parker. As expected Mr. Parker talked about fares and fees and assured his audience that the merger wouldn’t have an effect on prices, blah, blah, blah. Of course I was dying to hear him say something about the redesign of American earlier this year, what may or may not change with the merger, the decision to go with “American” as a name versus “U.S. Airways” …something! Finally, the host, Audie Cornish, said: “I have a branding question.”

YES! Now it was getting interesting. She talked about how the Southwest brand is known as the “quality, low-cost airline” and how Virgin delivers a “hip, high-tech experience”. Then she asked Mr. Parker to describe the American brand. At this point I'm anticipating some big idea, something different, something that would shake up an industry with such low approval ratings. His answer: “To be the greatest airline in the world.”

Like a dog, my head tilted. Did he just say, ‘”to be the greatest airline in the world?” What does that mean, “the greatest”? The greatest fleet? Check. The greatest number of destinations? Check. The greatest what? The greatest missed opportunity? Check.

I was stunned that the CEO, a company’s most influential spokesperson, didn’t have a more inspirational, more differentiating, more ownable message to pivot the brand and help improve the company’s (or even the industry’s!) reputation. After all, American has the spotlight. This was the chance to take on the smaller, but far more transformative brands. Previously, our COO Russ wondered what the fate would be of both brands and being “the best” was not amongst the list of imagined fates. And sadly, as Karl wrote earlier this year, it’s still just lipstick on a pig.

So yet again, American has missed one of the greatest opportunities to use rebranding as a way to signal change and to reset expectations with audiences. If you don’t have a clear story to go along with updates to your business and brand, your vision may never get off the ground.

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