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Airtel’s new logo comes in for severe criticism

Economic Times, New Delhi, November 28, 2010
Ravi Teja Sharma

Airtel is a fairly new brand and is prepared to go through the works. Also, Sunil Mittal still may not be listening to dissenting voices from the public. But why did Airtel decide to rebrand? Mohit Beotra, head of brand and media at Bharti Airtel explains: "We are at a significant stage of evolution at the moment. This brand is now going to be visible on two different continents. This will signal our readiness to change." He adds that the new logo, which has a lower case font in a sharp contrast to the earlier upper case bold fonts, is younger and more dynamic. "We also wanted to be seen as a more humble brand and so the lower case lettering."

Loyal consumers are not buying the idea. Over the years, a number of international brands that have changed their logos have retained uppercase typefaces.

In October, when Gap changed its decades old logo to "a more contemporary, modern expression", it attracted a huge amount of criticism from people on Facebook and Twitter. People wanted to blue box logo back. The result: Gap announced on its Facebook page that it was going back to its old logo.

"The logo has to communicate the brand," says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight. Gap’s change in logo was a sudden, drastic one and that was unacceptable to consumers. If we look back at successful logo changes, the majority have been incremental changes, a case in point being the changes Shell made to its logo-9 times over 100 years. "Of course a brand has to change but an increment change makes it more acceptable with consumers," says Dutta.

A logo can create a connect or disconnect with consumers. "With Airtel’s new logo, it certainly seems like a case of disconnect," says Harish Bijoor, brand domain-specialist and chief executive officer of Harish Bijoor Consults.

With these sudden changes, companies run the risk of alienating customers. "Companies that update their logos in conjunction with corporate evolution will be building trust and staying fresh in the minds of consumers as long as the changes are subtle instead of staggering," says Prathap Suthan, national creative director at Cheil Communications.

Some of the best brands in the world have very distinctive logos. If a logo isn’t distinctive, it will not stand out in the crowd. Airtel’s new logo, as many of the tweets and facebook comments point out, looks like a mix of two logos-Vodafone and Videocon. Many comments pointed out that the new logo looks like an inverted Videocon logo.

"Rotating by an angle of 135 degrees will make it look like Videocon logo too," says Nitesh on techbits.co.in.

The new logo, with its new typeface, surely does look young and vibrant, says Bijoor, but it doesn’t have the consumer connect that the old logo did. "It’s too soft. It could merge rather seamlessly into the FMCG space but then Airtel is not an ice cream," he says.

Today, all telecom logos are starting to look alike. Instead of differentiating, Airtel chose to merge into other brands with this new logo. It chose to use the colour red that Vodafone already uses. Does it have anything to do with the fact that the new Airtel logo was designed by London-based agency, Brand Union? The agency also also designed the Vodafone logo.

"And with mobile number portablility just round the corner, it certainly doesn’t seem to be a very good move. For anybody sitting on the fence about using Airtel’s services, it is a nudge to move out," says Bijoor.

In most cases a new logo enhances the brand. "While negative comments in the case of Airtel that we are seeing won’t impact the value of the brand, it won’t enhance it either," says Madhukar Kamath, group CEO and managing director, Mudra Group.

But the new logo with its international appeal is expected to work in newer geographies that Airtel is entering. "A graphic or a symbol is better translated across cultures and geographies," explains Dutta.

The amount of heat generated by this new Airtel logo has really surprised Kamath. "This in a way means that Airtel has a strong equity with people and because of the change they are responding aggressively. There is a strong degree of emotional connect and people are quite concerned." But while there is a great degree of concern, one isn’t seeing too many people on the other side-people who like the logo, which is a problem.

Interestingly, both Kamath and Dutta agree that the first time they saw the new Airtel logo, it didn’t connect.

Another example of dramatic change in logo was that of Videocon that changed in 2009. Abraham Koshy, professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad explains that brands should change drastically only when there is a very compelling reason. Videocon had that compelling reason. It needed to shake off its old world image and take on multinationals that were ruling the market.

When a brand is doing well and you change drastically, there is a chance that the consumer with a strong brand affinity, as in the case of Airtel, feels offended. "The risk is higher with drastic changes for strong brands," says Koshy. He also points out that a change in branding also needs to show in the actions of the company. Actress Gul Panag’s tweet a few days ago drives this point clearly-Airtel shouldn’t sit pretty and bask on its current glory, but work towards improving its service.

(This article originally appeared in The Economic Times on November 28, 2010)

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