On August 10, 2023, Air India, the airline now back in the Tata Group fold, revealed a modern new brand identity and aircraft livery capturing the essence of a bold new India, marking a milestone in its Vihaan.AI roadmap for transformation.
The new look is a re-imagination of the iconic Indian window shape historically used by Air India into a gold window frame that becomes central to the new brand design system symbolising a ‘Window of Possibilities’.
Rest assured, Air India’s 77-year-old mascot —the Maharaja—will not retire anytime soon but the potbellied figure’s role will be downsized. In a conversation with Storyboard18, Prasoon Joshi, chairman, McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific and CEO & CCO at McCann Worldgroup India discusses behind-the-scenes nuggets and narrates untold anecdotes and stories that shaped Air India’s rebranding strategy and new identity.
You created and released a film that unveiled the logo of perhaps the most-awaited brand transformation and rebranding in recent history. First of all, how did that feel?
It’s a rare opportunity and a privilege to work with various teams and be entrusted with the communication task for Air India.
A brand is a dynamic narrative. A narrative that evolves and is co-created by the ones who work for the brand and those who experience it. I am happy to play my role in the evolution of this iconic brand. More importantly, it’s a collective mission. The fantastic team at Air India and my talented team at McCann have worked together to deliver excellence.
What was the genesis of the film and given that the film was quite simply about introducing Air India’s new logo and symbol to the world, how challenging was it to create something emotionally evocative for such an iconic legacy company?
I am glad to know that it connected with you at an emotional level. That was my feeling at the very outset of this project. To be able to humanise the graphic elements and strike a chord with the audience. After all, this is inherent in the brand—warmth and human connections.
The challenge was to be able to do justice to the precise brief, where one knew what the final shot was going to be. It had to land at the new logo. The very purpose of this specific piece of communication was just to reveal the logo. This could have been simplistic, graphic-led.
How and how well to operate within these parameters was the challenge and the opportunity. And we could build on this because the team at Air India was constantly on board to achieve the same.
I had imagined this film with an X factor it should have. The location is suspended in time where a little girl discovers a magical talisman that acts as a portal to the future, showcases boundless possibilities. Blending emotion, innocence and magical realism, the film evocatively showcases the new identity of Air India. Every element of the film tries to communicate this, be it the story, the casting, the sound design or the music.
What were some of the most memorable moments for you working on this first piece of communication? Give us the behind-the-scenes, untold stories.
Casting of the little girl was a crucial call and literally till the last few days we were working on it. Many options were considered. But then there was something unusual about the little girl’s eyes which evocatively conveyed the intent of this film. While writing the story one has to be careful that one does not go overboard with reliance on SFX and stay faithful to the experience of the little girl and use a bit of restraint with technology that can tempt you .A lot of credit goes to Arun Gopalan, the director, who helped to strike a delicious balance and to my terrific McCann Team.
Airline advertising seems to have lost its lustre and awe-inspiring quality over the years, falling into the functional and rather clinical advertising category. This film seems like a complete departure, returning a larger-than-life, whimsical and fantastical quality to airline advertising. Tell us how you see advertising in the category globally and in India and how you approached the film.
Today, functionality has increased in every category of business in our new world of artificial intelligence and of AGI (artificial general intelligence.) The emphasis on data, precision and measured creativity is there for all of us to see. On a personal level too, I ardently follow tech AI, AGI developments. At the same time, if we do not understand nuanced narratives and get overly focused on functionality, it will be such a pity.
Informative and instant advertising today has a huge role. Simultaneously, communication has to have soul. We will see a lot of work being created instantaneously, in the blink of an eye. Let’s cherish creations that feed the soul, too.
The music complements the film beautifully and stands out as one its main features. Tell us more about your process of creation when it comes to marrying music with words and visuals. And how does the tune play into the vision for the new Air India?
Music played a critical role as many have noticed. We experimented with the music and at one point even explored using existing music tracks. But then it was such an intrinsic part that we kept going till we arrived at what we felt would be just right. Writing this song was special. It was not overt or over-reaching to announce the brand thought or philosophy but more to enhance the sensorial feel of the film. Hence, I used more metaphors like pankh (wing), aasman (sky) and blue. I don’t want to get into the craft of songwriting but fellow songwriters would appreciate it. The composition and singing too painstakingly delivered on the imagery and tone we wanted to set.
Air India is perhaps the only brand that everyone feels like they have a stake and say in. It’s loved and criticised in equal measure. It’s the one truly universally Indian brand. When your agency got the mandate for a new era of AI, what impact does this aspect of the brand have on the agency and you personally perhaps? Is the enormity of the responsibility and task exciting to you?
Though I can proudly say that we as a team try to create a deep connection with all our brands, Air India is unique—it’s a brand we have all grown up with. There is an unsaid connection with this brand. We have to be cognizant that there is a legacy and then there is a future. A nationally loved brand now has the vision and support of the Tatas to be internationally loved. There are miles to go and each member of the team is committed to the brand in an intricate way.