American Airlines and FutureBrand didn’t just wing it with their rebranding campaign: the new logo and airplane design, revealed publicly this year, was a two-year undertaking. Company and branding agency executives shared behind-the-scenes details of their rebranding strategy, research and rationale at a recent AMA New York event.

Jill Surdek, American’s managing director of brand and customer experience strategy, called the process a “saga”, reminding the audience that the campaign began prior to major unforeseen events (namely the airline’s late 2011 bankruptcy and recent merger with U.S. Airways). She then laid out, piece by piece, a plan that was that much harder given industry, financial and self-inflicted PR problems (with our comments in italics):

Multilayered rationale. “It was a slow, methodical process to build the case for change, but there wasn’t much pushback from senior management”, Surdek said. She explained the reasoning:

  • AA’s competitors all refreshed their brands within the past decade, but American hadn’t done so since 1967.
  • While many fans identified with American’s iconic look, it had undeniably lost its luster.
  • American ordered several new aircraft a few years ago, so the time was right to change customer perceptions.
  • Marketing priorities include expanding international business and attracting younger customers.
  • The airline needed to streamline its vast array of different logos across business units.

Business reasons for rebranding were compelling. American competes with branding stars Jet Blue and Virgin (America and Atlantic) and with legacy carriers. Appealing to a younger base is essential moving forward.

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