If KLM Can, Why Can’t Delta

Northwest Airlines Timetable CoverIf KLM and Air France can keep their unique identities after a merger, then why can’t Delta and Northwest keep their identities?

This week, Landor Associates, the branding firm, redid the positioning of KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines. This was to help build on KLM’s long heritage. KLM is part of Air France, but keeps a distinct identity.

I thought of this in the merger of Northwest and Delta. In the merger, Delta has unceremoniously decided to completely eliminate the Northwest brand in favor of its own. That is in spite of the fact that Northwest has built up acres of goodwill in the U.S. and Asia over the last half century. We wrote about it a number of times here. That makes it true!

Perhaps Delta ought to do something radical. Like do some survey work, and find out some of the core brand strength of Northwest, and build upon it. Terminals can be renamed for Delta. Divisions can be renamed for Delta. Sub-brands of Delta can bear the Northwest name.

One could argue that KLM and Air France have more overlapping routes than Northwest and Delta, yet they are not merging them. Yes, you could argue that the two airlines represent two languages and countries. But I would argue that the Southern/businesslike/Coca-Cola style of Delta and the Northwest/Ecotopia/Cary Grant/Asian feel of Northwest are two VERY different places and mindsets.

Frankly, there are enormous constituencies in a re-brand. There are printing folks. There are signage folks. There are uniform folks. There are marketing folks. They all want a piece of killing off the brand. They all have a stake in the brandicide. Frankly, in a re-brand, everyone tends to focus on the re-brand, and for management that is clueless, it diverts attention from the real issues. It’s cover for what can be a messy merger of two very different companies.

As a result, we have had to put Northwest on our Deathwatch list as, Delta officials are about to commit a brandicide on them. This brandicide will result in the loss of millions of dollars in advertising goodwill and intellectual property built up over seven decades, as well as lost business. Saving some aspects of the brand could SAVE Delta some cash. Read our post Delta Must Preserve the Northwest Brand.

BrandlandUSA Rule:

When you are thinking about eliminating a brand, realize that it is not zero sum. It is not one, or the other. Find meaningful pieces of the secondary brand, and utilize those bits. Don’t just try to merge the logos and colors. The question is not should Northwest be eliminated. The question is how can the value of Northwest be preserved within the newly merged airlines.


  • 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 Comment

  1. Look to the acquisition of Western Airlines and you can see the Atlanta-centric vision of an airline. WA was a true force in the western USA, yet DL trashed its strengths to focus on ATL based operations.

    Watch for Seattle, Minneapolis and San Francisco and Honolulu to lose importance in the DL scheme of things. Who will pick up the slack?

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