The IndiGo brand story

The IndiGo brand story

How IndiGo airlines' brand strategy makes budget travel in India better, if not the best

If good branding begins in a name then IndiGo airlines had quite a launch pad. Cleverly couched within the name is a play on ‘India’ and ‘Go’ -- a smart shorthand for a nation where, according to government data domestic air travel grew 19 percent in 2010 to 52.02 million passengers on the go.

This upstart of an airline, just five years old, has deposed the maharaja -- Air India’s domestic arm --and is poised to pip the liquor baron -- Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines.

In a report recently released by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, IndiGo and Kingfisher had an even tally of 18.6 percent of the market share in 2010.

It’s a tie behind the combined, veteran forces of Jet Airways and its budget carrier Jet Lite.

In one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets that’s no sloppy seconds.

Business + branding = buzz

Last month IndiGo penned a US$16 billion deal for the staggered delivery of 180 new eco-efficient Airbus A320 aircrafts.

It’s also just got the green light to launch flights to international destinations. By August 2011 Dubai, Muscat, Singapore and Bangkok will be added to their flight roster.

But the buzz isn’t all business-y.

IndiGo has become the kind of brand that spawns customer appreciation pages on Facebook, an unlikely acclaim for an Indian airline where service-oriented brands usually get flak for failures, not fans for their flair. 

IndiGo has a summarily stated three-point corporate mantra that is trotted out regularly in press releases: “Offer fares that are always low, flights that are on time, and a courteous, hassle-free travel experience.”

This no-frills corporate diktat gelled with advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy India (W+K) who believe “Advertising is irrelevant if the customer experience isn’t great.”

Going about the business of image building from scratch, Mohit Jayal, business director at W+K, has been working with IndiGo co-founders Rahul Bhatia and Rakesh Gangwal from 2005, the year before IndiGo took off.

They decided people shouldn’t feel cheap when they buy cheap.

A young fleet for a young India

Jayal describes the target consumer as “not a demographic but a psychographic” and the brand as having an abundance of crossover appeal.

Indigo airlinesReusuable cookie jars. For IndiGo W+K use plenty of young, urban style cues, demonstrating an abiding respect for the fundamentals while indulging the cool quotient.

Step-less stairs, handicap-accessible boarding ramps, q-buster scanners for passengers traveling without check-in luggage, were all on the manifesto from the get-go.

Luggage stickers read ‘Fragile’ over a little heart-shaped graphic, so cute that Jayal says kids like to steal them. IndiGo’s airsickness bags urge the passenger to "Get well soon" -- a  device adapted by Jet, whose bags now also ask you to "Take care." Cookies packaged in pretty pastel pink and blue tins move like hot cakes.

This month, W+K ran an agency-wide competition for a veggie burger. A nouveau-cuisine version of the Gujarati dabeli won and it’s available on aircrafts now, probably with a cute pun on ‘bun’ like this one.

The secondary products are practically a spin-off industry now.

“When a brand has such a strong personality, it makes sense to extend it,” says Jayal.

An airline passenger is perhaps the most captive of all audiences. But Jayal clarifies, “It’s not just pack ‘em in and sell ‘em stuff. The idea is to offer differentiated products that people actually want.”

“What characterizes the IndiGo gang is that they’re very keen to get it right, they’re obsessive about details,” says Jayal. “Even the tape that separates our (check-in counter or boarding) queues reads ‘no red tape’” Jayal adds. It is, of course, a precise shade of indigo. 

This is how we do it

W+K had to be careful to not inundate the consumer with on-board and terminal messaging, but a television commercial which premiered in March 2010 pulled out all the stops.  

The smash hit commercial for the airline has the tagline “on-time,” selected from the trinity of tenets that the company rests on (low-cost, on-time, courteous). IndiGo consciously steers clear of budget badges of honor -- presumably cost will always factor into a customer’s choice.  

With conveyor belts and assembly lines and workers indistinguishable in their uniform spiffiness, the ad projects assembly line efficiency. Secondly, the swell bell-hops, sexy receptionists, slick executives and smiling airline crew are more a montage from mid-century London and Paris than a reflection of India 2010.

But such is the power of top class advertising, that it matters not that the voice-over is firang and that the Indians look more like well-sunned Europeans.

Indigo airlinesBob, hat, scarf, badge, check, check, check, check.Toward the end of the TVC, the voiceover quips in an upbeat voice, “We become the world’s most powerful economy … on time.”

And so brand IndiGo is served up with a side of futuristic patriotic pride. How’s that for subliminal?

Apparently the flight crew were so enamored of their slick on-screen projections, that fashion designer Rajesh Pratap Singh and make-up and hair artist Ambika Pillai were recruited to reinterpret the reel-life look for the real-life IndiGo crew.

In August last year female flight attendants trotted out in the new uniform -– Pratap’s single-piece navy-blue tunic somewhere between a tennis and a shirt dress, with a thin indigo belt highlighting the waist.

Pillai’s flirty bob hair pieces and brick red lip and nail color, set against nude eyes with a pull out eye liner complete the look.

Compare it to budget carrier JetLite’s new uniform, launched around the same time, which puts its girls in collared men’s jacket and pants. Who wants to see that? 

Said the company press release, “India’s coolest airline now has India’s hottest looking crew!”

The future’s looking bright

A widely speculated upon IPO, possibly the largest in Indian aviation, has been a highly sensitive barometer for the brand.

Jayal speaks feelingly about creating a new global brand with a ‘made in India’ sticker.

“[IndiGo offers] operational excellence, cost control, great experience,” Jayal says. “The Indians are coming, not just with an under-priced product but one that’s experientially as good if not better than anything out there.”

IndiGo already has the lowest cancellation rate among domestic airlines in 2010, it was close to the top in on-time performance, and with W+K’s help they’ve already conquered the low-cost carrier stigma.

Sometimes, as Jayal says, “The right thing to do is also the smart thing to do.”

Aditi Saxton is freelance features journalist and a television scriptwriter currently living in New Delhi.

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