By Mark Ritson
In the fast-paced world of modern business there is rarely any time for reflection or sentiment. But there were buckets of the stuff being thrown around last Wednesday when Qantas farewelled its last 747. The airline took delivery of its first Boeing 747 in 1971 and the plane has subsequently transported a quarter-billion Australians on their travels. “It’s hard to overstate the impact the 747 had on aviation and a country as far away as Australia,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce observed in a statement.
When QF7474 took off from Sydney Airport for the last time, it headed south on a final flyover of the Harbour Bridge and the HARS Aviation Museum in Wollongong. Then Captain Sharelle Quinn banked left out over the Pacific for the long, final journey to the US and the mothballing that awaited.
But it was what she did next that made last week’s flight famous. About 200km off the Australian coast, Quinn banked again and QF7474 appeared to change its mind and head back towards home. The old plane did cross over Australian soil one more time, just south of Port Macquarie, before doubling back over the Pacific in a strange, convoluted flight path.
It was only on flight radar that Captain Quinn’s intentions became apparent. In one final act of celebration for the 747, the plane drew the famous flying kangaroo across the Pacific Ocean. With the shape complete, QF7474 returned to its original flight path and disappeared over the horizon forever.
The gesture made national and global headlines. The flying kangaroo was emblazoned across more than 100 different news sites. CNN called it a “special message”. The BBC referred to it as “one final flourish”. The world spent a few seconds thinking about Qantas.
That altered flight path is the perfect metaphor for how all brands should aim for distinctiveness. Too often, our companies fly a very straight, very boring, very generic line. And nobody notices them doing it. The trick, as Qantas so ably demonstrated last week, is to glory in doing it differently. Doing it your way.
Captain Sharelle Quinn signs off with a flourish.
The best research suggests that you will struggle to remember 20 per cent of the ads that you saw on TV last night. Either the ad itself has completely disappeared from your short-term memory or you can recall a vague storyline but have no idea which brand was behind the campaign. More than 80 per cent of advertising is entirely wasted.
The reason for these abysmal figures is that most marketers are not very good. They overstate how well known their brand is to consumers and how much attention these consumers pay to advertising and other tactics.
If more marketers appreciated just how little notice consumers paid to brands, they would make a much bigger effort to get noticed, all the time. To achieve that end the better run brands focus heavily on what are called “brand codes” or “distinctive assets”.
Every brand has a logo. But better run ones have created a small subset of additional assets that consumers also associate with the brand. In the case of Qantas, there is a logo but there is also a specific red pantone, a font, a white-shirted choir of little children and – yes – a flying kangaroo.
But it’s not enough to have this shortlist written down. The real challenge is to apply these codes mercilessly across everything so that whenever consumers interact with the brand, they know immediately it is Qantas.
That might sound an obvious move, but a quick walk around your local shopping centre will reveal that the windows of Australia’s leading fashion brands look astonishingly similar. Take away the logo above each door, and there is virtually no distinctiveness apparent between Cue, David Lawrence, Country Road or Witchery. They look exactly the same.
Of course, these stores don’t appear that way to the executives that run these brands. To management eyes you can immediately spot subtle details that indicate which brand is which. But that is not the level that consumers operate at. You need to be obvious. To be codified. To be distinctive. You need a kangaroo-shaped line, not a flat boring one.
The only local fashion brand doing this at a global level of competence is sleepwear brand Peter Alexander. When you pass one of the company’s stores, you know it is Peter Alexander. Thanks to a brilliant founder, proper management and a palette of strong codes that include pink, Penny the famous dachshund and cartoon iconography you don’t need a logo to know the brand immediately.
Research firm Ipsos recently conducted a major study to understand which symbolic codes work best to make a brand distinct. Branded characters like the St George dragon and shapes like the flying kangaroo are shown to be easily identifiable. But top of the list in generating branded attention was the “sonic brand cue” – fancy modern verbiage for a jingle.
Of all the ways a brand can instantly identify itself, the most powerful way is through recurring music. Just ask the excellent marketing team at AAMI – it is another exception to the bland, badly run school of Australian branding. The AAMI girl and the “Lucky You’re With AAMI” jingle are both ridiculously well known by consumers and uniquely attributed to the insurance company. Branding nirvana, in other words.
QF7474 now rests somewhere in the Mojave Desert. The old plane can take some comfort in knowing that not only did she transport millions of Australians around the world but also, in a final act of corporate service, made everyone think about Qantas, the flying kangaroo and the spirit of travel one more time.
Sleep well, old girl.