Southwest Airlines just launched a major rebranding effort, its first in more than a decade. It’s dropped the boring old logo—literally just a picture of a plane with the words SOUTHWEST under it—in favor of a striped, rounded heart (it’s no coincidence that their home airfield in Dallas is called Love Field). And crucially, in a loud-and-clear commitment to its online sales, it’s changed its name to Southwest.com. A friendly new font completes the look, instead of shouting in Helvetica, the new logo has a mix of upper- and lower-case letters on a blue field, almost evoking Facebook’s logo.
After the 2010 purchase of AirTran, Southwest Airlines acquired a few hundred extra planes that would need to be repainted. So, the story goes, they decided to just go ahead and repaint the whole fleet, ensuring that the spiffy new clothes will soon be seen throughout the country. And they look really great: it’s actually hugely expensive to paint an aircraft, so the decision to go all-blue is one that will cost them. Southwest is betting that the added recognizability their solid paint job imparts will be worth the increased costs.
The heart is also important: no other airline in the United States uses a heart as a logo, allowing Southwest to differentiate itself in a market that sometimes seems saturated with red, white, and blue clones. Executives said that the choice of the heart signifies Southwest’s commitment to its customers, whom it treats with love. The airline also took the opportunity to add some quirky details to its new plane paint jobs, sticking the heart in clever places like next to the boarding doors and on the plane’s belly.
The heart is meant to communicate that, perhaps unlike other airlines, Southwest truly cares, and is committed to putting its heart into things. A new ad series is called “Without a heart, it’s just a machine” promises to push the idea further.
Experts have been almost universally enthusiastic about the change, calling it “bold and engaging” and “modern.” They also changed the look of their airlines’ paint jobs, which often made the planes look like they were arriving from 1977 instead of LAX.
The change signifies Southwest’s commitment to its new identity. Of late, the airline has been plagued by a wave of bad press. The US Department of Transportation found last year that only 72% of Southwest’s flights arrived on time. If that wasn’t bad enough, Southwest was also reported to have lost more bags per customer than any other airline. It was clear that the conversation was not going in favor of Southwest Airlines, and the company decided that a rebrand was necessary.
Of course, that’s not how it was explained to the press. Rather, Southwest executives declined to comment on negative press, and instead characterized the changes as a celebration of the opening of Southwest’s first international flights (to the Caribbean and Mexico) and successful integration with AirTran, a purchase that was made in 2010.
Nick Rojas is a business consultant and writer who lives in Los Angeles and Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas.