Qantas logo change shows how to strike the right balance

One of the great challenges in branding is when, or whether, to change a logo. If a business decides to bite the bullet, should it go for a significant makeover or a simple update?

Irrespective of whether the change is big or small, it is likely to be met with strong opinions. A recent example of this was the decision by Australia’s national airline, Qantas, to make a relatively modest change to its iconic FLYING KANGAROO. This decision has prompted many column inches extolling the virtue of an incremental update, as well as criticism of Qantas for having made any alteration at all. The one point on which all commentators are agreed is that if businesses make any change to their logo, they must be sure to get it right.

A logo is like a personality. The trade and purchasing public become familiar with it and feel confident using the goods or services provided, establishing a comfort level between provider and consumer. Unless a business is planning a dramatic new direction and wishes to communicate this to its customers, a significant change in logo can, and usually will, be detrimental. Subtle changes to update a logo, however, are often more beneficial.

The Qantas kangaroo was first unveiled in 1944 when the airline was known as Qantas Empire Airways; it represented the kangaroo which appeared on Australia’s one penny coin. The logo has now been updated four times: in 1947, 1968, 1984 and 2007.

There can be many reasons for considering a change, including: 

  • a dated design or colour selection; 
  • a change in the goods or services offered - for example, an expansion in the range of goods or services provided; and 
  • a change in the target market. 

Timing is also an important issue to consider. It is easy for a business to say that it is never the right time to change, thus avoiding having to decide. However, this can be perceived as a failure to move with the times, resulting in a loss of market share. Similarly, a business may argue that if its logo still fulfils the image and aspirations that it wishes to convey, is directed to the target market and relates to its goods and services, then there is no need to consider a change – the “if it ain’t broke, don't fix it" approach. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for a business to misread market sentiment and be overtaken by events that necessitate a reactive rather than proactive response.

It can be equally difficult to overcome customers’ emotional attachment to a familiar and trusted logo. It can take time, money and effort to persuade customers that the new logo will offer the same high level of comfort  to which they are accustomed from the old version.

Qantas’s decision to update the 1984 version of its FLYING KANGAROO has in part been necessitated by its purchase of the A380 Airbus, which has a tail fin of different proportions from the existing Qantas fleet. However, Qantas has also taken this opportunity to alter the font and colour of the word QANTAS as it appears on its aircraft. The previous heavy black font has been softened and is now rendered in a steel grey.

The launch of the new FLYING KANGAROO logo has been relatively low key, particularly when compared to the fanfare that accompanied British Airways' (BA) decision to remove the Union Jack from the tail fin of its aircraft, 10 years ago. BA planned an ostentatious unveiling, which met with an outcry from its customers and unflattering comments from the then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. BA was forced into a humiliating u-turn, which was widely regarded as having weakened its competitive position.

While Qantas appears to have avoided any significant fallout from its logo change, the accompanying press coverage highlights the potential pitfalls that await the unwary.

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of IAM's co-published content. Read more on Insight

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