Investing a brand personality is an under-estimated way to help set brands apart and engage customers. Kulula.com is an airline that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its humorous brand personality is clear through all aspects of the brand experience. So how did this all begin? And also what lessons can be learned and applied to your brand?
Having identified a gap in the market for a low-cost airline to bring air travel to the South African masses, Kulula.com launched in July 2001. It operates on major domestic routes out of Tambo International Airport and Lanseria on the outskirts of Johannesburg. As building a business based on price alone would make it vulnerable to attack from more established airlines, it has hewn a positioning based on ease, inspirational service and safety. This is summed up in its name which means ‘easy’ in Zulu. Though most distinctive is its brand personality. Being totally honest, straight-forward and helping people lighten-up.
Launching with a budget of just 3m rand (c. £200k) demands cut-through communication. The brand launched with a super heroes campaign. The jingle espouses “Now Everyone Can Fly” (and there isn’t a plane in sight).
Product and service appearance
Similarly to easyjet’s bright orange in the UK, Kulula has adopted a distinctive lime green livery. The unconventional markings include ‘this way up’ and arrows pointing to parts of the plane, including rudder, nose cone, sun-roof and where ‘the big cheese’ (‘captain, my captain’) sits.
In 2010 South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup and Kulula.com ran a campaign describing itself as the “Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What”, which took place “Not next year, not last year, but somewhere between”. Another advert announced “affordable flights [to] everybody except Sepp Blatter” (the FIFA president), who was offered a free seat “for the duration of that thing that is happening right now”. Obviously, oblique references to the World Cup which FIFA intervened to stop. Thus creating even more publicity for Kulula.
Kulula flight crew are encouraged to let their natural talent show through. Here are some examples that have been heard or reported in in-flight “safety lectures” and announcements. :
“In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling and provide free oxygen. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child travelling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are travelling with more than one small child, pick your favourite.”
“There are 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 ways out of this airplane.”
“Your seat cushions can be used for flotation; and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments.”
“It is with pleasure that Kulula Airlines announces that we have some of the best flight attendants in the industry. Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight!”
“We’ve reached cruising altitude and will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance your flight attendants’ appearance.”
Here are some comments heard after a few extremely hard landings
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to The Mother City. Please stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened while the Captain taxis what’s left of our airplane to the gate!”
The airline has a policy which requires the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exit, smile, and say “thanks for flying our airline”. In light of a particularly bad landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment. Finally a little old woman walking with a cane disembarked saying,
“Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Why, no Ma’am,” said the pilot. “What is it?”
“Did we land, or were we shot down?”
Part of a flight attendant’s arrival announcement:
“We’d like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you’ll think of Kulula Airways.”
“As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses.”
“Please be sure to take all of your belongings. If you’re going to leave anything, please make sure it’s something we’d like to have.”
“Thank you for flying Kulula. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride.”
- Designing brands with brand personality, i.e. characteristics, beliefs and behaviours enhances stand-out.
- In a world awash with corporate grey, a rich and clear personality, injects colour and breathes life into brands. Executed effectively this maximises impact, engages and forges a strong emotional connection with customers.
- When problems occur or disasters strike, as are prone happen in the service industry, a self-deprecating or humourous personality can defuse issues and provide a stress release or antidote.
- As Kulula says “smiles and jokes are free” (1). And great ideas make budgets go further.
- A humourous brand message and personality is entertaining. In turn this creates a talking point and encourages sharing via social media and email.
- And leave readers to question whether this is an April Fool’s joke or not….