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Project focus: rebranding Virgin Atlantic

One challenging rebrand johnson banks has tackled is Virgin Atlantic. Firstly, it’s unusual for a company that already has a strong brand to approach the studio. The brief also had an interesting technical aspect to it – find a way to paint the aircraft in the fleet that uses less paint. When planes have up to nine coats of paint on them, the added weight does result in significant amounts of extra fuel being used over the lifetime of the aircraft.

“People didn’t really have a problem with the Virgin brand or the Virgin Atlantic brand,” says Michael Johnson. “So we came in, and we were working with an organisation who we were doing strategic research. We did the visual audit, and we were shocked, actually. We said, ‘Gosh, you’re all over the place, aren’t you?’”

As johnson banks audited Virgin Atlantic’s brand a number of inconsistencies arose. The planes had three different styles of livery, messaging varied from glamour and luxury to crude jokes, and various logo schemes had been adopted and ditched. In many cases, the airline’s message was its own, but in some instances the tone of voice veered towards British Airways, and in others towards easyJet.

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In addition to cleaning up all the inconsistencies, johnson banks introduced a narrow sans-serif type and brought the words Virgin and Atlantic together at equal weight.

“Now the planes are getting much more consistent,” says Johnson. “We gave them a kind of kit of parts that is much more elegant and sophisticated and stylish and so now Virgin can trade at this luxury level – or apparent luxury, because even if you’re flying economy, it seems to be able to make people feel a bit better about that.”

Did Johnson get to meet Virgin owner Richard Branson? Nearly. “They kept threatening that I’d meet Richard, but funnily enough, which was a good sign, they decided that everything was fine and they were happy, and I didn’t,” he smiles.