AirMiles says adios, returns as Avios

Interbrand has rebranded the AirMiles travel rewards programme Avios: shrewd move or another Consignia?

Interbrand has rebranded the AirMiles travel rewards programme Avios: shrewd move or another Consignia?

As our sister titles Design Week and Marketing Week have reported, the overhaul is due to the merger of owner British Airways with Iberia to form International Airlines Group and the need to create a common points currency across all territories. The brand is set to launch fully on November 16 with an ad campaign by Richard Flintham’s 101.

For now, we only have the mark and a holding page on the brand’s website to go on as far as visuals are concerned so it would be wrong to draw too many conclusions. Speaking to Design Week, Chris Davenport, head of verbal identity at Interbrand, said that “We wanted to create something that felt like it had value and was collectible. There is definitely a jewel-like quality to the identity and also a dynamism, with the angle suggesting take-off.”

Thanks to some enthusiastic Photoshop shading the plectrum-shaped mark does suggest some kind of token, albeit of a more plasticky nature than Davenport’s hoped-for “jewel-like quality”. As for it suggesting “take-off” that same italicized type trick has been employed in the service of all manner of corporate goals, from innovation to forward thinking to speed.

So far so standard big branding consultancy shiny mark solution. Without further information or examples of how the identity will be employed, let’s leave aside the visual and concentrate on that name: Avios.

Davenport told DW that, “The client wanted an identity that felt international and also something that could operates as both a programme name and a currency name. We generated more than 1000 names in the process. Avios is reasonably abstract but everyone has an aviation association with it. It’s also very distinctive in the marketplace.”

A cursory bit of Googling reveals that Avios is also the Applied Voice Input/Output Society and a home cinema supplier as well as the Association of Visually Impaired Office Staff. So not even a made-up word can guarantee you a unique brandname.

The nadir of corporate renaming is, of course, Consignia, the new name for the Post Office and its associated businesses introduced in 2001 and withdrawn just a year later. Its launch provoked howls of protest but reading a 2002 BBC interview with Keith Wells of Dragon Brands which came up with the name, it all seems quite logical.

This was a business that was being repackaged as a PLC and which was operating internationally. It had three existing brands – Parcelforce, Post Office and Royal Mail. As Wells explained, “Post Office – that was too generic. Lots of other countries had their own post offices, so it would have been a difficult name to protect abroad. Royal Mail – that has problems when operating in countries which have their own royal family, or have chopped the heads off their royals.”

So they had to come up with something new. Why Consignia? “It’s got consign in it. It’s got a link with insignia, so there is this kind of royalty-ish thing in the back of one’s mind. And there’s this lovely dictionary definition of consign which is ‘to entrust to the care of’. That goes right back to sustaining trust, which was very, very important.”

You can just imagine the nodding heads in the meeting. It all made perfect sense – so long as you had sat through all the presentations, realised why the alternatives didn’t work and knew where the business wanted to be headed.

But if you hadn’t been in the meetings and were just reading it cold it came across as meaningless trendy bollocks (a technical term).

All kinds of businesses face the same issues as Consignia – moving away from what they used to do/make, operating globally, dealing with a merger or other re-organisation. Then add in the fact that thousands of real names are already taken (just try buying a domain name and see what I mean) and the descent into neologic nightmare begins. A new name isn’t always necessary though. Ironically, one of the most famous instances of a company sticking with its original name despite fundamentally changing what it does can be found in the marketing industry itself: Wire and Plastic Products, now better known as WPP.

Not all made-up names have have been as badly received as Consignia. Aviva, despite initial opposition, now seems to have bedded in, as does Diageo. In a Guardian piece following the withdrawal of Consignia Wells made the point that if introduced today an oil company named Shell may well be ridiculed, but surely that misses the point. It’s the replacement of a well-known and logical company name with something that smacks of marketing fluff that people find objectionable, not the names themselves: no-one minds Google or Orange as a company name but they might if they’d previously had longstanding relationships with companies known as Global Search Engine or The Mobile Phone Company.

‘We hope that it will become naturalised into speech when people are collecting it as points,’ Davenport said of the Avios name. I don’t mind uttering the word ‘AirMiles’ but ‘Avios’? It’ll take some getting used to.

 

 

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