Hulsbosch embarked on the most extensive brand overhaul in Australian aviation history. They began by creating a single unified brand, Virgin Australia. Then a 360-degree brand map was devised, detailing how each brand execution relates to each other and to the new brand story. Hulsbosch created the new name, brand identity, aircraft livery and the complete interior look and feel including colour, business/economy class dividers, seat design, leather, fabrics, carpets, lighting, music etc and conceptualised the airport lounges.
Sir Richard Branson
Founder Virgin Group
BE CHALLENGED, BE CONFIDENT, BE THE BEST YOU CAN
You’ve got to give it to Sir Richard Branson (Entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group) he doesn’t let an opportunity go to waste and when he saw a chance to challenge the airline duopoly that limited domestic travel in Australia he went for it. Together with Brett Godfrey, (Co-founder & founding CEO of Virgin Australia Airlines Group) Branson promised a cut-price alternative to the established players and they went in search for a suitable moniker. A competition offering a first prize of two return trips per year for life, resulted in numerous creative submissions such as: People First Airline, Fair Fare Virgin, I Can Afford That Airline, Rooted Airlines and Virgin Down Under. Ultimately the choice fell on Virgin Blue because, according to Sir Branson: ‘I’ve heard how Australians refer to a red head as a “BLUEY” and since our planes are red, we thought it would be a bit of fun. Additionally, we think the name may be appropriate since some people suspect we are going to have a bit of a “BLUE” with the big airlines’1.
And indeed, in 2000, just prior to the start of the Sydney Olympic Games Virgin Blue launched its low-fare service with seven daily flights between Sydney and Brisbane, soon followed with a Brisbane / Melbourne service at $99 per person.
The company had a flying start and recorded its first profitable month in December 2000, just four months after its start-up. One year on, a jubilant Branson declared: ‘There were so-called industry experts who said “Blue” wouldn’t get off the ground, then they said it wouldn’t last… those people underestimated the power of the travelling public who were fed up with being ripped off’ 2.
They had proven to the Australian public how ‘true blue’ they were about delivering low fares and when Ansett folded in September 2001 all their Christmas’ came at once. Suddenly Virgin Blue became Australia’s second domestic carrier and they never looked back. Using a familiar formula of eliminating costs pioneered by RyanAir and Southwest Airlines, Virgin Blue went from strength to strength. However, as mentioned, Branson leaps on any opportunity that presents itself and he struck gold when in 2010 he employed John Borghetti AO.
When Borghetti arrived on the Virgin horizon the airline was a mix of different brands – Virgin Blue, V Australia, Polynesian Blue and Pacific Blue – and without wasting any time Borghetti announced a new business strategy, the ‘Game Change Program’. This involved Virgin exploring a deeper penetration of the corporate market transforming the low-cost Virgin Blue to a full-service Qantas competitor. This meant, in the first instance, consolidating the airline’s disparate domestic and international brands into one unified brand, Virgin Australia, and allowing it to speak with a single voice using contemporary visual language.
Borghetti was under no illusion as to the enormity of the task. He is however, also a man who has thought long and hard about the power of branding. ‘Some tend to see branding as something that begins and ends with the logo. Not so, a logo is only the first step. The brand must reflect the life, the character, the very culture of the company. If you get your branding right, people understand who you are and decide how they feel about you. In my view, getting it right is ensuring it has two fundamental qualities: simplicity and longevity. If it’s not simple - too topical or fashionable - it’s not going to stand the test of time’ 3.
Previous brandmark and sub-brands 2000-2007
Sir Richard Branson
Founder Virgin Group
One of the first things Borghetti did was appointing Hans Hulsbosch as the creative director of the airline. ‘Because,’ Borghetti explained ‘Hans is my conscience. He’s really my conscience on anything to do with design and branding. I use him as an objective one-on-one advisor. When you have decisions of the magnitude I’m faced with, it pays to talk it through. In my opinion you’d be pretty silly if you didn’t... even if in most cases we end up in what I call “violent agreement”’ 4.
To the Hulsbosch team the brief was very clear: Re-define the Virgin Airlines brand in Australia to directly challenge Qantas; elevate the under-dog to a genuine and credible competitor in the aviation market. Increase the airline’s business customer market share by attracting a significant portion of the competitor’s affluent business customers. The strategic game-changer turned out to be a top-to-tail brand repositioning; it was one of the most exciting creative briefs in the history of the Australian airline industry.
Needless to say for the Hulsbosch team this was a massive undertaking, made all the more challenging by the fact that they were given just 12 months to deliver an outcome that would encompass everything you see, touch, hear and taste from the inside to the outside of the entire aircraft fleet, the airports lounges, and much, much more. The minutiae of the total rebrand was as simple as it was complex.
The Hulsbosch team started with the identity by considering the overall Virgin brand. They made a strategic decision to differentiate from Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America in order to acknowledge the distinctive Australian experience. However this game-changer was nearly game over when Hulsbosch tipped the established Virgin brand script on its side for the aeroplane’s tail – taboo according to the design manual5. This was compounded by clipping the word Virgin at both ends – double taboo... They were saved by Branson who agreed with Borghetti that Australia is a very different market and required its own design guidelines. ‘He was terrific, only with Richard’s support and his response: “Screw it. Just do it!” did it get through’ 6.
The staff at Virgin were the catalyst of the overall look and feel and they set the tone for the rebrand. Hulsbosch created a younger, smarter, cleaner, more contemporary look. By definition, Virgin stands for pure and white, so this, and the Virgin red, were used as the basis of the redesign. Added to these colours was silver to signify sophistication and purple to give the brand an edgy look. The transformation of the identity was dramatic, from the initial larrikin red economy to a sleek new brand that oozed business class appeal without alienating leisure guests.
But the Hulsbosch team’s involvement went much deeper; they stood back and reviewed the overall experience of the brand. A 360-degree strategic brand map was devised detailing how each brand execution relates with each other, to tell the full brand story. All brand iterations were redesigned, not only a new name and the brand identity for aircraft livery (exteriors) but more crucially, all interiors including seat design plus leather and fabrics, carpets and curtains and all on board collateral. The aircraft interiors have been designed in such a way that they can evolve over time without great cost. World-renowned chef Luke Mangan created the taste of the brand and Hulsbosch designed the menus. Hulsbosch also designed the concepts for the lounges and then partnered with Sydney’s Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects to ensure that all lounge designs were consistent with the rest of the brand. They are welcoming, sophisticated, relaxing spaces featuring digital artwork by artist Daniel von Sturmer, illuminated marble bars, intricate timber panelling, vertical glass screens and natural light reflecting a clever interpretation of the brand language. The team also worked with Les Gock (Owner of Sound Thinking + Design) devising sound, from crew announcements in the lounge and on-board, to the choice of the music during boarding and take-off. And they collaborated with fashion designer Juli Grbac to provide input into uniforms, scarves, ties and badges.
And then there was the ‘Flying Maiden’. She was originally developed in the style of Alberto Vargas, a pinup artist of the 1940s whose work famously featured on the nose of many WWII aircraft. She is the stylish guardian of the Virgin Australia experience and is proudly flying the flag on the side of each Virgin Australia aircraft, as well as airport terminals and lounges around the country. According to Borghetti she was ‘contemporised by Hulsbosch with a softer ghostly grey premium look that we can use independently as we roll out more premium product‘ 7.
Because the brand was redesigned from the ground up the Hulsbosch team were able to implement a consistent design vision across all platforms and made sure that at every touchpoint the design and brand elements involved all five senses and linked in a natural and logical manner. Every single component has the same ‘look & feel’. All points of contact bring the Virgin experience to life. For a passenger, the initial contact is usually via the online booking system whilst the check-in counter and airport lounge are often the very first direct experiences they encounter on their Virgin journey. All these environments provide a crucial opportunity to tell the Virgin brand story. Every aspect and detail that makes up the airport experience has been carefully crafted to portray the brand identity, brand values and offer a tantalizing glimpse of the on board journey.
There wasn’t anything that Borghetti didn’t personally approve because of his firm belief he, as the CEO, has to own the brand. ‘Anything the customer sees, I want to sign off on. What’s consistent is comfortable and what’s pleasing to the eye puts people in a good mood’ 8.
In the end though, these static elements mean nothing unless they are completely backed up by the way the Virgin staff connect with the passengers. They are the ultimate brand ambassadors. They need to live and breathe the brand from their appearance, to their demeanour. They are tasked with bringing Virgin Australia to life and are ultimately the most important part of the brand9.
John Borghetti AO, CEO, Virgin Australia
Virgin Australia takes staff training very seriously; they revere their staff with great pride and with good reason. This attitude has been recognised throughout Virgin Australia’s history. In 2001, some 12 months after the start of Virgin Blue they snared their first award, a prestigious Service Excellence Award from the Customer Service Institute of Australia. Many more have followed since including being named the most attractive employer in Australia in 2011 and again in 2015 at the annual Randstad Award and awarded the best Business Class and best Cabin Crew by leading airline safety and product rating review agency, Airline Ratings10.
It wasn’t only the Virgin team that was bestowed with awards and recognition; Hulsbosch received the Award for Design Effectiveness - Brand Identity at the 2012 Australian Design Biennale. That same year they were named National Finalist - Brand Revitalisation by the Australian Marketing Institute (AMI). In 2016 Hulsbosch also received the Red Dot Award for Product Design - Business Class Cabin Design.
1. Sir Richard Branson quoted in Virgin Australia, (2000). Virgin Blue To Fly The Aussie Skies. Media Release. Retrieved from https://www.virginaustralia.com/au/en/about-us/media/ 2. Sir Richard Branson quoted in Virgin Australia, (2001). Many Happy Returns!!! Virgin Blue Flying High After a Year of Operation. Media Release. Retrieved from https://www.virginaustralia.com/au/en/about-us/media/ 3. Borghetti, J. (2017). [Virgin Australia Rebranded]. 4. Borghetti, J. (2017). [Virgin Australia Rebranded]. 5. Hulsbosch, H. (2017). [Rebranding Virgin Australia]. 6. Borghetti, J. (2017). [Virgin Australia Rebranded]. 7. Borghetti, J. (2017). [Virgin Australia Rebranded]. 8. Borghetti, J. (2017). [Virgin Australia Rebranded]. 9. Hulsbosch, H. (2017). [Rebranding Virgin Australia]. 10. VirginAustralia. (2016). Virgin Australia business class and cabin crew named best in the world. Media Release. Retrieved from https://www.virginaustralia.com/au/en/about-us/media/2016/va-airline-ratings-award/ 11. Branson, R. (2011) Sir Richard Branson talks about the Virgin Australia rebrand. Mumbrella. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_L0_Q9C035s
"If we were going to re-define the Virgin Airlines brand in Australia, I knew we had to have Hulsbosch on board. Their clarity of vision and dedication guarantees success."
John Borghetti AO, CEO, Virgin Australia