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The Italian job
The Alitalia livery is something of a classic, with a retro feel that is authentic, having been designed in 1969, and an enduring style that means it has worn its 46 years well. The original was penned by Walter Landor, with a slight italicizing tweak by Saatchi & Saatchi in 2005, and it seems fitting that in early 2015 the task of updating the livery again fell to his company, Landor Associates. The job was no shoe-in though: Landor still had to pitch for the project and prove it had the vision to reflect a revitalized Alitalia.
Landor’s chief creative officer, Peter Knapp, was in charge of the project. However, before work began he recognized some difficulties with the airline that had to be considered. “Alitalia had built a reputation being being somewhat dysfunctional, with a number of takeovers that didn’t happen, poor performance and poor operations, and it was really struggling. With the advent of Etihad taking a significant shareholding [a 49% stake was secured for Euro 560 million in 2014] there was a chance to look at what changes might come and how to create a new proposition for this iconic brand.”
Don’t feel that Knapp is being harsh; Alitalia president Luca Cordero di Montezemelo and Etihad CEO James Hogan acknowledged these problems at the January 2015 announcement of the new efficient, customer-focused and sexy Alitalia.
Landor conducted research into flyers’ opinions of Alitalia and found it had a major positive: people around the world love Italy. “From any overseas lens it has romance, style and passion,” says Knapp.
However, the research also found that people found Alitalia’s operations as unattractive as they found Italian style seductive, so the job became to instil those desirable qualities of the country into its flag carrier.
“Alitalia is seen as a quasi-governmental airline rather than a national ambassador. That was the problem and the opportunity – how can we make it come alive, make it desired?”
The branding program was wide-ranging, all the way from overall strategy down to designing antimacassars and service choreography. The team approached the project with caution though, as while the airline’s operations weren’t well regarded, it was still considered an important national brand that had to be respected.
“It’s classic ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’ stuff, and we had to present the brand in a way people still recognize while still seeing meaningful change,” explains Knapp.
“Not every piece of branding work on every project is a case of ripping it up and starting again; sometimes the intelligence is in crafting a solution as opposed to throwing it all in the air and demanding everything is all new. Sometimes when that happens you get a violent reaction from the public and press. Typically you can’t win – if you go too far it’s a crazy waste of money; if you don’t go far enough, it’s a crazy waste of money. It’s about trying to gauge it just right.”
The team had to take a conservative approach, and also had some elements that had to remain: the red, white and green of the Italian flag of course, and the iconic ‘A’ on the vertical stabilizer.
A major inspiration for the livery revamp was one of Italy’s finest exports: sports cars. The team wanted to imbue the livery with a sense of the speed and luxury associated with Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Formula 1 car liveries. Thus the green ‘go faster stripe’ of old is gone, replaced with more discreet white lines that add a sense of speed and excitement near the empennage and that also show off more of the pearlescent white paint finish on the fuselage.
Knapp views the scheme as confident and luxurious, a feeling he carried through to the brand logo, which has been moved from a prominent position above the windowline to a slightly more discreet spot beneath. This new location alludes to another of Italy’s most renowned exports: fashion. “It now looks like a fine piece of tailoring rather than being as big as possible – that’s not the Italian way. We also worked with our Milan office to make sure that we got everything right from a cultural point of view.”
Above: The Alitalia ‘label’ now features on the undercarriage for greater exposure
Below: The 2005-2015 livery and logo
The lettering of the brand logo itself was also refined, with the ‘A’ made more prominent, and the other letters sharpened and trimmed, with a particularly pleasing slash created between the ‘t’ and ‘a’.
Below: The new, refreshed brand logo
“It’s a crafted consideration to try to make it look more of this era through subtle changes. The brand is recognized around the world, so holding on to that recognition is important. If you throw that away, then you have to be sure that’s what people – especially the people of Italy – are prepared to countenance.”
The main event is now the vertical stabilizer, which now wraps round the entire empennage, with more vibrant colors and a color gradient replacing the classic but slightly flat look of old. It looks fresher but still instantly recognizable and again has been inspired by Italy’s luxury automotive brands.
Knapp explains the importance of the success of the design for its key audiences: the Italian people, and the airline’s crew. “Keeping the pride of the workforce is important – the crew love the typical look of an Alitalia plane; they may have looked dated, but heritage is important to them, and keeping the pride of the workforce is important.”
He recalls the 1990s ‘ethnic’ liveries introduced by British Airways and the apocryphal stories of cabin crew telling passengers that they didn’t like the scheme. “You can’t have the crew not being positive brand ambassadors, but at the livery launch the Alitalia crew were hugely emotional and enthusiastic because they hadn’t lost the airline they loved – it had just been contemporized.”
You can watch a video of the reveal HERE.
Above: The livery was revealed on an A330, but Landor says it can be easily applied to the rest of the fleet of B777s and A320 family aircraft, by starting with the vertical stabilizer and working forward
Landor’s other work for Alitalia goes beyond the livery, extending to the branding, onboard product and signage, with current projects being food and choreography of service.
“When you are in the arms of Alitalia, in the experience, there are bigger differences,” says Knapp. In economy and premium economy (pictured left), Landor again took cues from automotive styling, with body-molded seats, hand-stitched leather details, embossed logos in the antimacassars, and the use of sumptuous tan leather on the headrests and seat bolsters.
“Everything about [economy and premium economy] looks like a sports car seat, which becomes a visceral expression of the Italian luxury car experience that I think people hold in their head and would desire,” he states.
In business class the team strived for more of an Italian lounge feel, with the Solstys seats retrimmed in black and tan Poltrona Frau leather. “The very subtle but evident Italian details found all the way through the business class cabins make you feel that you are in a luxury brand – it’s almost Prada class as opposed to business class. The whole project was trying to tap into the global psyche of what people love about Italy and finding the places to deliver that feel, all within the confines of a known brand. But we had to change it from being known, to being known and loved. That’s the gig really.”
Overall, it’s a subtle but much needed brand refresh. But will the new livery endure for 46 years? We’ll see…
What makes a good livery?
Alitalia aside, what does Knapp see as the essential elements in creating a successful aircraft livery design? “It’s a number of different things. It has to express the brand strategy. From a functional point of view, it must stand out at the airport. It has to be something that engenders pride and drives choice from customers – there’s no point having something dramatic that no one would actually choose to fly on. Those are probably the main things: in short it should be strategically on brand, that you can see and identify really clearly. It should be a positive discriminator.”
Many airlines bring out special aircraft liveries every year, from sports team themes, to Disney, to promoting major national events. What are Knapp’s thoughts on such work?
“I’m not sure that’s always the best use of money personally. If you are going to do it then the trick is to make sure you have the right brand partner in order to ensure that the promotional livery isn’t in conflict with what the airline brand stands for. I really wonder how significant these liveries are. Some work well, but typically I’m not entirely sure. I can understand why people want to get behind F1 companies because that’s basically using the livery as advertising. For some brands F1 is appropriate, but you would never have a budget airline like Ryanair or easyJet associated with F1. It’s critical that the brand alignment is right.”
There is space on the new white Alitalia fuselages for sponsorship – what would Knapp consider appropriate? “It has to be the right fit – perhaps if Armani is doing something spectacular.”
Want to hear more from Peter Knapp? You can read his blog on why low-cost carrier branding needs to evolve HERE and watch a video of him explaining experience mapping in our videos section HERE.
2 December 2015