Kingfisher Airlines – The Costliest Advertising Campaign Ever.

(UPDATE: And today, the DCGA has finally suspended Kingfisher’s license. They must now look for other ways at advertising their products)

Kingfisher Airlines is in a mess as we all know, and enough has been said about the grounds and reasons for this. Though we can all speculate, the real reason for the failure of Kingfisher airlines was not its mismanagement or it’s promoter’s extravagance. Looking at the entire fiasco from a different, out-of-the-box marketing perspective, we can see that Kingfisher was never meant to be an Airline at all. Instead, it was conceptualized and executed as an elaborate, far-reaching, costliest advertisement campaign the country has ever seen, for, well, beer. Kingfisher beer. And it has been a total success! All media houses, Twitter and public in general has been screaming “Kingfisheeeeeerrr!!!” at the top of their lungs for the past 3 days. What better advertising can you get?

Photo Courtesy: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Think about it. You run a company that produces the country’s most – if not only – successful brand of one of the most in-demand Barley-based alcoholic beverage ever. Suddenly, you find well-entrenched international brands with almost bottomless pockets snapping at your heels. And you are forbidden by law to advertise your product. What would you do? Subliminal advertising? Works, but has no mass appeal and is cumbersome. You need something big to get around those restrictive laws. Something like a new advertisement vehicle altogether, a new product under the same brand name that can be seen by all, everywhere. Something like a Telecom company or an Airline. The latter is much more glamorous and is much more hassle free, which can become a complete part of your clientele’s lives, who will remain loyal for ever, especially the new-age-frequent-flying Indian who consume the most beer. And the advertising for the Airline will serve to be a bonus, with the general public constantly being reminded about your beverage. The reach for this is unprecedented. You can see the brand name splashed across aircraft fuselages in sizes 10 times the biggest hoarding flying around the country, in airports, on hoardings, at travel agencies, on buses, cars, TV, internet, casual talk and so on across the country, visible to millions of people.

If you look at it in one way and how it was run, it almost looks like Kingfisher was never meant to be an Airline at all, but a super high priced advertisement campaign for Vijay Mallya’s more popular product of the Barley kind. The Kingfisher-bird logos, the red and gold colors, the “Kingfisher” logo and brand titles all used on the beer and the airline are exactly the same! And as far as I can say, this 7000 crore hole that the Airline has landed in is not because of mismanagement or gross misuse of anything. Advertisement campaigns do not need brand strategy or business models or positioning and product life-cycle development plans. The problem started when they decided the ad campaign should become a brand and product.

Why Kingfisher Airlines Tanked

Jokes apart, Kingfisher’s branding and business model was meandering, directionless and confused in itself, not to mention the bad business decisions. Kingfisher Airlines was born as a teenager who could not come to the terms that it was born and immediately started partying, imagining that everyone around only wanted to party and splurge as well. The party got louder and louder and finally lost itself in the din and forgot everything about itself. This current mess is the result. Believing that it had enough flaunt value for people to pay a premium to fly on it, the airline never came to terms with itself. It did not realize that people would not buy the double whammy of premium prices and delayed and mismanaged flights. However, the real death-knell was the stupid, hasty and reckless 2100-crore hostile takeover of Air Deccan. The subsequent branding mess of Deccan to “Simplifly Deccan” and then “Kingfisher Red” as a ‘low cost arm’ which had the same branding, colors, services as the regular “Kingfisher”, with uniform pricing across both brands only added to the confusion. Maybe they should’ve rebranded Deccan as “Kingfisher Premium” with a green color scheme. It was said that in an attempt to pull out all stops at providing premium services at economy prices, Kingfisher’s operating costs ended up so high that even if it flew with 100% occupancy on all flights it would still lose money.

Kingfisher always tried to convey that it is a “classy” airline which is meant for “classy” people, though I have to admit, there has been no airline with service at par to it. However, their delusion that all Indians are emancipated and would pay a premium for flying with them for reasons like “being Vijay Mally’s guest” was pushing it. They seemed not get the fact people would be ready to pay for “lifestyle” services, extra legroom and other fancy addons when flying on an ultra long haul route like Singapore Airlines SQ 21 but not while flying domestic, when people would rather to get to their destinations as soon as possible, where punctuality and no-nonsense service matters more than bells and whistles (case in point: Indigo). But Kingfisher Airlines never seemed to understand this. I hope they can come out of this mess and resume all services soon. Until then, let us hope that the 7000 crore loss that the Airline currently faces will be written off by UB as “advertisement expenses”. It will remain the costliest ad campaign the country has seen. And there is no such thing as a “lifestyle” airline. And give those poor flight attendants some uniforms that they can breathe in. And their salaries!

P.S. And Force India, with Kingfisher branding and sponsored by Kingfisher Airlines was an advertisement exercise for the Airline when Kingfisher started to fly international. And the beer for Indians. Also, the IPL team. Bangalore Royal Challengers.

UPDATE: It has all ended. Kingfisher Airlines will never fly again, Mallya has fled and the Indian taxpayer (like always) ends up the ass holding the bill.

Disclaimer: Everything said here is of the author’s own opinion and does not reflect the official or otherwise stance of the company, Kingfisher Airlines, or it’s employees, stakeholders or anyone else in any way.

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