Critics: American's New Look Doesn't Fly

There’s something different in the air. Just how special seems to be a matter of hardy debate. American Airlines, whilst in bankruptcy and reportedly in discussions with US Airways about a merger, ceremoniously unveiled a new logo replacing the “iconic” Helvetica AA on its tail with bolder colors and red-white-and-blue stripes, as well as an updated eagle.

Feathers have been ruffled.

“Some people compared it to the New Coke rollout of a few years back; some say it’s a little Greyhound-bussy,” Brian Williams reported on “NBC Nightly News” last night.

“The reveal, made online, introduced the sleek new look that will grace the company's much touted new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which will hit the skies January 31,” Huffington Post writes. The company also unveiled a new marketing campaign with “Change Is In the Air” spots featuring Jon Hamm doing the voiceover, reports Ad Age’s Rich Thomaselli.

"The idea of it was to bring back the wonder of travel," Daryl Lee, global chief strategy officer at McCann, tells Thomaselli. "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."

In the 4:03 video introducing the new look, American Airlines CEO Tom Horton says: “We’ve known for more than two years that we were building anticipation towards a moment in time when the outside of our aircraft reflects the progress we’ve made on the inside.”

The first comment on the airline’s own Google Plus rendering of 15 executions of the new look, however, suggests it should have left iconic-enough alone: “I wonder how much it cost in branding consultants to go from the prettiest to the ugliest livery in the US?” 

The second comment: “Looks like it was made for new-age people with low visual standards and tastes. ‘facebook-internet-design’ as I usually call it.”

“We asked our customers and our people what they felt very strongly about,” Horton told a press conference covered by the Dallas Morning News’ Terry Maxon, [and] “there were a few recurring themes. The first was the silver bird. We like the silver airplane. Don’t change the silver.” So American didn’t, “but it had to be painted, of course.”

The peeps also liked “red, white and blue” and “the eagle,” and those elements also have been retained in what Horton feels is “a look that pays tribute to our great past as a company but also very much modern, refreshing and forward-looking, welcoming, all the things that we think about when we think about what’s great about American.”

“Our new logo and livery are designed to reflect the passion for progress and the soaring spirit, which is uniquely American,” SVP and chief commercial officer Virasb Vahidi says in a statement echoing those talking points and excerpted by WFAA.com’s Jason  Whitely and Matt Goodman. 

“Our core colors -- red, white and blue -- have been updated to reflect a more vibrant and welcoming spirit,” according to Vahidi. “The new tail, with stripes flying proudly, is a bold reflection of American’s origin and name. And our new flight symbol, an updated eagle, incorporates the many icons that people have come to associate with American, including the ‘A’ and the star.”

Responses on Twitter “have ranged from baffled to withering,” Keenan Mayo observes in Bloomberg Businessweek, quoting design cognoscenti such as architectural critic Paul Goldberger: “Big lettering of new @AmericanAir logo ok, but the rest feels like it is trying too hard to be trendy, unlike the self-assured [Massimo] Vignelli logo.”

Mayo’s own take? “The brazenly patriotic, hot-rod look supplants the airline’s classic, mid-20th century design -- one that once called to mind the golden era of flight but has more recently come to symbolize an industry struggling to adapt. Goodbye to “The Aviator.” Welcome to “Team America: World Police.”

Massimo Vignelli, who created the previous logo in 1967, tells Creative Review: "A designer can only be as good as their clients, therefore the new American Airlines Identity doesn't surprise me much. Clients without [a] sense of history, could not understand the value of equity.”

Ouch. But wait, there’s more: “…many people do not understand the difference between Design and Styling, and believe in change for the sake of change … Design cannot cover the mistakes of bad management, but Styling can,” the iconic-himself designer says.

Vignelli, however, does allow final judgment to the ages: “Anyhow, I am quite proud of what I did long ago and wish the best to them,” he concludes. “Only time will say...”

Tags: airlines
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