This just in: All Nippon Airways (ANA), one of Japan’s largest airlines, has announced the renaming of its budget carrier as Vanilla Air. That’s right, Vanilla Air. Now granted Vanilla Air may not be as bad as the names of former airlines Touch and Go, U-Land, and Ransome Airlines (I’m not making these up, I swear), but Vanilla Air doesn’t exactly soar either.
So what’s the rationale for this ultra-plain brand name? According to the company’s president, Tomonori Ishii, Vanilla is “loved by everyone in the world.” Uh, ok. Even if that were true, popularity does not a positioning make. And renaming the airline after a bland spice comes across either as a failure of imagination or a blatant copycat gesture, considering such low-cost carriers as Mango Airlines (South Africa), SpiceJet (India) and Peach Aviation (another Japanese airline that ANA holds a stake in). Come on guys, haven’t you ever heard of the importance of differentiation?
Another obvious downside to the name is that while “vanilla” apparently doesn’t have negative connotations in Japan, in this country it’s almost always used metaphorically to evoke blandness and sameness (not the associations I expect Mr. Ishii was aiming for).
A metaphorical brand name can be a bold and successful way to position your brand when the metaphor captures some essential aspect of your brand story. Think Mountain Dew, for instance, or Wild Mint: an apt and evocative name for a retailer of natural lifestyle products. But when the metaphor bears no organic link to your offering, it dims rather than distinguishes the brand.
All in all, this airline brand name just doesn’t fly.
Overall Name Grade: D+