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Pimped for a ride

Peter Knapp of global branding and design consultancy Landor Associates warns that over-milking ancillary revenue streams can ultimately cheapen your brand

Where did the golden age of travel go? Has it gone for good or is it cowering in the corner, overwhelmed by a polarised industry where everything in the no-frills arena is pimped for a price?

The Low Cost Brat Pack have instigated an entirely new set of behaviours that are here to stay. Cheap, not so cheerful, and devoid of any luxury or extra, the low-cost experience is ultimately feeling like a high price to pay. Stripped back to basics, cramped in your no-recline, no-number ‘wash down’ seat, minimal cheap is a million miles away from golden-hued minimal chic. Meals, early boarding, extra luggage and so on are available, but with their very own price tag. However there is a new generation of travellers who understand and buy into these rules, as it’s the low ticket cost that entices them to travel in the first place, and their expectations are low – very low.

Where it gets turbulent is when airlines try to play by both rules – sometimes ‘golden age’ and sometimes ‘pay as you go’. You can’t be cheap and cheerful on one route and glamorous and ‘golden’ on another. It simply doesn’t add up to a clear perception of the brand, and risks severe erosion of its image. Many carriers see the ‘all things to all men’ positioning as a quick way of driving additional revenue, and it is, in the short term. Do not however, underestimate the difficulty of reclaiming the desired high-end position when the economic straight-jacket has loosened.

With ancillary revenue streams rife amongst the low-cost carriers (LCCs), it is little surprise that airports – those companies of easy virtue – are beginning to follow suit. Luton’s £1 ‘kiss and drop’ – which buys 10 minutes in the drop-off zone and was greeted by incredulous mass media – is just one example of airports trying to wrestle those last few coins out of customers’ pockets. Add to this £1 for your trolley and a few pounds for your see-through plastic bag and you quickly realise how spiralling operating costs are being ‘subtly’ passed down the line to the passenger. However, when the UK’s national ‘business’ airport, Heathrow, starts selling off the family silverware you have to wonder if nothing is sacred. Each and every available advertising space has been shamelessly pimped for a price. Escalator handrails, stair risers, even the car park exit barriers have all become sources of revenue. As a gateway to our culture it is nothing short of a disgrace, not to mention an ineffective use of media. More media doesn’t mean more effective, it simply translates as more irritating and has exactly the opposite effect for the message tenant.
So be careful what you’re selling – it might end up being a lot more than just a cheap trick; you might sell the family silver by mistake.

Peter Knapp is executive creative director, EMEA, at global branding and design consultancy Landor Associates. He has worked on a broad range of local and global branding and design programmes in his 14 years at Landor – including BP, F1-X, Johnnie Walker and Morrisons – and is also widely known for his expertise in airline branding.


19 June 2009


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