Why Northwest and Delta Brands Must Both Survive

Northwest Airlines Timetable CoverIt looks likely that there are going to be some airline mergers, including a possible Northwest and Delta combination. In the process, a great airline brand could be lost. We hope it is not Northwest.

Because Northwest is one of the coolest airlines around. It still runs the DC-9. And it still runs the 747. It is a lead customer of the 787 Dreamliner.

Here is what might happen. One airline will buy the other. There will be board fights. A branding company will be hired, to the tune of a million or so, to accomplish a “rebranding.” Focus groups will be called. And the brand that is less well known will be dumped to prevent consumer “confusion.” The new company will then spend millions on the new brand name, and the disappeared name will just go bye-bye. Then, consumers will be confused when they can’t figure out why their favorite airline has stopped flying across the Pacific.

The executives of the new company will say all sorts of nice things about the old brand they are dumping. They will then go out do destroy any and all evidence of the old brand. Little weasels from p.r. departments will issue branding and signage guidelines. In far-away stations, the old name will disappear or folks will GET INTO BIG TROUBLE with the new regime. Funny little men and women will stop at all stations, rooting out old stationary and signage that might reside behind the counter.

Millions will be spent on advertising this new “brand” even as service of the merged airline goes down the tubes. Press releases will be issued, saying how sorry the new management is about the service problems since the merger. Yet more commercials will be launched. Things will get better, sort of. But something would be lost.

But there is another way this could go down if this were a Delta/Northwest merger.

  • The two airlines would merge.
  • The merged company would operate under both names, but not as a hyphenated company. Domestic routes would share one brand name, probably Delta, because it is less geographically restricted, and more generic. Atlantic routes could operate under the Delta banner, since Delta is larger across the Atlantic.
  • Pacific Routes of the new airline would be branded Northwest. Many still call the airline Northwest Orient. Northwest has a long brand story in the Pacific, and it is one that is older across the Pacific than United, which only took over Pan American’s routes in the 1980s. Northwest began service across the Pacific in 1947 with its Great Circle Route. It would be a crime and a shame if that history were shut down by Delta. Asian customers just wouldn’t get it. Northwest is all about Cary Grant; why would any company throw out that brand story. But larger than that branding issue is a company issue. The routes to Asia are high margin, and they are all regulated. They operate differently than domestic, unregulated routes.
  • Select brand identity items of each of the company might survive. The new magazine might be called Sky, but some of the airline lounges would all be rebranded WorldClubs after Northwest. The Delta JFK terminal could be rebranded WorldPort, to correspond to the new identity.
  • Some select domestic Northwest routes would continue to be branded with Northwest. For instance, select routes to and from Chicago, Seattle, Los Angles and Hawaii that have large corporate clientele could be marketed as Northwest, and take on an Pacific and Asian feel. This would help differentiate Delta in the west, where its practical Southern spin doesn’t have as much appeal as in the East.
  • Commuter airlines associated with the merged entity could be branded with Northwest and/or Delta to preserve that equity.
  • With high fuel prices, all airlines are at risk. Part of protecting a company for the future is separating divisions, so that if one part goes chapter 11, another part can survive.

Whatever happens, both brands must survive.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.


  1. the nwa name will be gone by 2010.

  2. would be nice if there were some consideration but there is too much pride in Atlanta to let it happen

  3. Agree. Totally. But there are too many egos at stake.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *