While vacationing on Maui in April I bought my son a vintage Pan Am ball cap that became a conversation starter over the following weeks. For those of you not familiar with Pan Am or if you have tucked a childhood memory in a corner, let’s just say that it was the embodiment of travel for the better part of sixty years and a cultural icon of the 20th century. The blue globe logo as its mark, identifying each aircraft with the word “clipper” in the name, distinct uniforms that mirrored the style of the time, and the “Worldport”, an architectural tour de force, for its flagship terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, contributed to its iconic appeal as a timeless brand.
This tattered hat started a conversation with a retired flight attendant, who gently steered me away from that term, and recounted her last flight as a lead stewardess. It brought about a lengthy chat with a retired captain about flying the 747-SP to Japan. Lastly, there were the shared experiences traded between some of the older surfers and sun worshippers parked next to us on the beach or by the pool.
Was it all good? I venture to say no. But the customer experience Pan Am managed to deliver at its height in the 60’s and early 70’s is forever engrained in the psyche of the travelers. A mental snapshot of a by gone era that was innocent and sophisticated at the same time.
TWA brings about some of the nostalgia of Pan Am; however, I think that it was a legacy of the will power Howard Hughes brought to bear that keeps it in the running. He was not trying to out Pan Am with TWA. He just thought that he could do it better.
If you are still reading this post, here is the fun part. What happens when you try to out Pan Am with your own airline? You get Braniff International.
I am not going to go into Braniff’s history…you have Wikipedia for that. Let’s just say that entering the 60’s Braniff was a bit boring and the executives wanted to shake things up. And they did that by hiring Jack Tinker and Partners, with Mary Wells as the account lead (if you’ve watched Mad Men you can figure out who is based on her).
Mary and team differentiate the brand by hiring architect Alexander Girard, designer Emilio Pucci, and shoe designer Beth Levine to launch the “End of the Plain Plane” campaign.
The livery was now a single color on each plane, selected from a palette of bright colors. The fleet eventually used over 15 color with 57 variations of Herman Miller fabrics. The schema was applied to aircraft interiors, lounges, and ticket offices. Girard also designed furniture for Braniff’s ticket offices and customer lounges. Beth Levine developed plastic boots and designed two-tone calfskin boots and shoes and Emilio Pucci designed the Pucci Pant Dress uniforms.
Did it work? No it did not work as a timeless brand unless you are a marketing nerd and fan of fashion.
Even though it did not resonate past the 60’s and early 70’s, the effort that Mary Wells and her team put into differentiating the Braniff brand is legendary. But sometimes it is those who define the market early that set the tone by diligently managing every detail that their brand represents.
What brands that are no longer here resonate with you?
A final note; I was at JFK in 2013 watching the old Worldport being demolished to make way for a brand new terminal for Delta. What a shame. That terminal was unique and timeless.