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1574R-0721BFor more than 40 years, American Airlines had used the same logo: a pair of capital As, one red and one blue, surrounding the silhouette of a diving eagle. When the airline purchased 550 new planes, made from a new composite material, it had to change the look of the finish, so it decided to change its look altogether, including a new logo, new designs for the plane interiors, a new website, and new kiosk interfaces in terminals.

The most visible element thus far is the new logo, which removes the double A and offers a more abstract version of an eagle. The abstract image is oriented more horizontally, rather than vertically downward. On the new planes, this eagle logo will appear near the front, as if pointing the direction for the flight. Furthermore, the tails of each airplane will feature another abstract image, evocative of the U.S. flag with blue and red stripes (but no stars).

Businesswoman with laptop on private airplaneThe abstraction of the images reflects American Airlines’ goals in for the rebranding, namely, to emphasize the “American spirit” without evoking negative images of the United States in global markets. Futurebrand, the agency that American Airlines hired to assist it with its efforts, polled consumers around the world to identify positive traits they associated with the United States. The effort sought to determine not just how people view American but also how they view America in a global age.

The results highlighted images of progress, technology, and entertainment, but they also cautioned against any implication of attack or aggression. Thus the downward diving eagle needed to go, because it was likely to be interpreted as attacking. A direct representation of the U.S. flag might have been perceived as jingoistic, whereas the abstracted version simply provides a more neutral identifying hint.

In eliminating a widely familiar logo, along with its well-known letter typeface, American Airlines clearly is taking a risk that it will lose brand recognition among customers who unconsciously seek the same look they have always seen at the airport. But in a global economy, a company with an American identity, in all senses of the term, needs to take care to emphasize the positives while avoiding more controversial elements.

Source: Mark Wilson, “American Airlines Rebrands Itself, And America Along With It,” Fast Company, January 22, 2012.