MUMBAI- Tata-owned Air India (AI) Maharaja is a significant heritage of Indian advertising, an enduring symbol that has left an indelible mark.
Conceived by Air India executive Bobby Kooka in 1946, this endearing mascot has long embodied India’s renowned hospitality.
Over the years, the Maharaja has played a pivotal role in shaping Air India’s unique identity. Subsequently setting it apart from global counterparts like Trans World Airlines (TW), Pan Am (PA), and British Airways (BA).
Maharaja Position in Air India New Branding
According to recent reports, AI might consider retiring the Maharaja as part of its ongoing rebranding efforts.
The cherished regal figure, with his blissful grin, may no longer align with the flag carrier’s evolving vision.
Considering Maharaja’s deep-rooted legacy with Air India, the airline’s choice to part ways with its mascot has surprised numerous figures within the branding and advertising domains.
Insiders have revealed that while the Maharaja won’t continue as the airline’s mascot, the iconic image will still find a place in airport lounges and premium sections. The source informed e4m.
Does the emblem, representing India’s historical monarchy, no longer resonate with the current era? Is the mascot becoming a burden for Air India as the brand aims to embrace a more modern identity? Let’s catch the experts’ opinions.
Maharaja and Amul Girl
The Maharaja has often drawn comparisons to the Amul Girl; however, the latter has successfully maintained its relevance by incorporating current events into its messaging, centered around the mascot.
Unlike the Amul Girl, the Maharaja hasn’t quite adapted to the changing times, absent from the brand’s recent communications.
According to Santosh Padhi, CCO at Wieden+Kennedy, this isn’t reason enough to phase out the mascot.
“Unlike the Amul girl, the Maharaja hasn’t been consistently featured in communication that addresses current events. However, the Maharaja remains a remarkable asset for several reasons. It exudes a sense of sophistication and carries a positive perception among foreigners. In the present landscape, brands seek distinctive assets, and the Maharaja aligns perfectly with the airline’s service offerings, as passengers are treated like royalty. It blends seamlessly with the brand’s essence. Over the years, we’ve witnessed how the Maharaja’s appearance has evolved across different flights.”Santosh Padhi, CCO at Wieden+Kennedy
Is Iconic Air India Maharaja Old Now?
The e4m gathers insights on how they would advise the agency and the brand to modernize the legacy brand while preserving its authenticity.
KV Sridhar ‘Pops’ provided an intriguing and humorous perspective during his conversation with e4m.
“Having spent three decades collaborating with airlines, including my work with Air India, I can attest that the relevance of the Maharaja has faded in today’s context. Contemporary society doesn’t aspire to a Maharaja’s lifestyle; times have changed. Present India is one where individuals purchase IPL teams and derive satisfaction from it. The era of achieving the CEO position at 50 is behind us; youngsters aged 12-18 are now CEOs and founders of their own ventures.”
Amit Wadhwa, CEO of Dentsu Creative India, expressed his perspective:
“I believe the concept of something being ‘dated’ is inaccurate. The brand name itself holds immense strength. Assuming that Air India’s foundation would be rattled if the mascot is retired would be inaccurate. Further, the brand holds significant prominence in India. The mascot can certainly be effectively employed in the present era as well. I fail to identify any compelling reason for overhauling the Maharaja.”
McCann Worldgroup Wins Contract
Following the acquisition by the Tata Group of Companies, Air India has recently entrusted its creative and communications responsibilities to McCann Worldgroup India. Subsequently, discussions about rejuvenating the brand have gained traction.
In a bid to revive Air India’s (AI) iconic advertising and branding, the Tata group has entrusted McCann Worldgroup India, led by Prasoon Joshi, with the task.
According to McCann, “McCann Worldgroup India has won the advertising and marketing communications mandate for Air India, following an extensive multi-agency pitch.”
This appointment aligns with Air India’s five-year turnaround plan to transform into a world-class global airline through customer service, technology, and product investments.
McCann Worldgroup India will spearhead the development of a new brand platform. It will also look after various multi-channel marketing communications for Air India.
The agency’s passionate and proactive approach and proven creative success positioned it as the ideal choice for the airline.
Sridhar ‘Pops’ offered his perspective:
“My counsel to the brand is to preserve the core essence of Air India, which is rooted in hospitality, while evolving its outward symbols. We exist in a vastly different world now, where hospitality has taken on a new meaning. It’s crucial for them to grasp this and retain the fundamental essence. Develop a brand identity that resonates with contemporary hospitality values. Air India holds a distinctive symbol as a representation of the nation. With Tata’s involvement, there’s a gateway to showcase it as a symbol of present-day India. They should seize this opportunity and present to the world the image of a confident and modern India.”
Furthermore, Abhik Santara, Director and CEO of ^ a t o m network, reiterated the importance of preserving the brand’s fundamental values. He commented,
“Air India has grappled with its historical challenges, primarily service efficiency. It should align with consumer expectations if it decides to undergo a rebranding. However, it’s vital to acknowledge its legacy, which embodies Royalty and Pride for Air India. Rather than distancing from these aspects, my recommendation to both the agency and the brand is to embark on a reinvention journey that respects the brand’s core ethos.”
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