FRANKFURT — The highly anticipated and much-rumored unveiling of Lufthansa’s new livery has kept the Av-geek blogosphere in a froth of fomenting speculation as to whether the German carrier might only do a smidge of Botox for a fresher look, or go in for a full-blown face-lift.
Which begs the obvious questions: Did Lufthansa have some severe unclaimed baggage that needed hiding? And was their last livery update from 1989 causing their fleet to lose altitude or costing them market share?
I would strongly suggest quite the contrary.
In fact, it is hard to argue that their blue, gray, yellow and Helvetica identity has made them one of the most iconic and recognizable brands in the world.
Like all good, rule-abiding German products, Lufthansa complies with the firm national appreciation for Form und Funktion, while downplaying frill, fancy or frivolity.
There are no extraneous stripes, lines, dots or details that might get in the way. Instead, it is clean and economical. It is distinctive and consistent. It is meticulous and exact. It’s German, for heaven sakes. But what it’s not… is broken.
Jumping back to the origins
Before we unpack the new livery event itself, it is important to note that the origin of Lufthansa’s color scheme and logo come from the marriage of two different airlines back in 1926: Junkers Luftverhehr—who supplied the yellow and blue paint scheme—and Deutsche Aero Lloyd, who provided the crane design.
And despite Lufthansa’s service interruption as a consequence of the rise of the Nazi’s and the fall of Germany after World War II, these iconic elements have remained an integral part of her DNA to date.
2018 marks the crane design’s centennial birthday. Initially conceived by Otto Firle 100 years ago, the somewhat random choice for an airline emblem had nothing to do with Germany’s national bird, (which happens to be the Black Eagle).
In fact, Firle might have easily used a seagull or a chicken as the basis for his design, given that the only cranes, vaguely synonymous with Germany, are of the construction variety that shaped the Berlin skyline for a good two decades after the reunification.
For whatever reason, cranes prefer to call Scandinavia and Russia their home. But given their ascent up the endangered species list, Lufthansa has spearheaded an impressive and robust awareness program to save the very icon that symbolizes “good luck” and “a long life” (something the carrier’s shareholders most certainly hope for).
But at today’s press conference, CEO Carsten Spohr added “change” and “evolution” to the poor bird’s burdens. He went on to say that “the new livery symbolizes our modernization. We need to make the airline ‘fit’ for our future.”
The Unveiling of Lufthansa’s New Colors
As for the reveal itself, I have to hand it to Lufthansa for shattering all records for the worst kept secret of all time.
Not only did Spohr share a computer rendering of the new livery at a tourism conference in Cape Town a week ago (where a “leak” seemed very apropos be due to the “mother city’s” imminent water shortage).
Then, barely 24 hours later, a 747-8i bearing the new livery was photographed as it pushed back of the painting hangar in Rome-Fiumicino before being blitz-blogged across the world.
And by some coincidence, as I was headed to the launch event in Frankfurt, paging through Lufthansa’s February on-board magazine at 42,000 feet, I discover a 5-page article with Q&A by designer Ronald Wild revealing all the saucy details of the fleet’s new paint job.
“Who shot JR?” was shrouded in more mystery, which seems to suggest that the Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail might have been a very deliberate PR ploy all along.
Standing in the dramatically illuminated A380 hangar just west of the Fra-port terminal, a few hundred press, a lottery of invited employees, and a handful of board members witnessed a slick presentation of comments and videos. These, built up to a stunning texture-mapping light-show across the fuselage of the first 747-8 to enter service in 2012, adorning her new livery to rousing applause.
And in perfect synchronization, the first rebranded A321 from the simultaneous Munich launch event landed and pulled up right alongside the hangar.
As predicted, Eurowhite remains the dominant color, which is consistent with paint schemes that have preferred clear fuselage canvasses since the late 80s, due to how much cost a dark paint scheme can add to an airliner.
Not only is white paint lighter, cheaper and cooler, but it is also easier to apply. And because fading is less noticeable, the fleet can go longer between paint jobs. So, no big surprise there.
Apart from a few barely noticeable character tweaks, the Lufthansa wordmark above the forward and lower window line is still in the same Helvetica Black font, which is the basis for a great many famous word marks like Microsoft, Panasonic, Target, Nestlé, 3M and American Airlines.
The big (but barely noticeable) change here is the reduction of two different font families down to one, for all signage materials, communications and branding.
But the most noticeable changes are the removal of gray from the belly and the engine cowlings, and the extension of the leading and trailing edge angles of the blue tailfin into a cummerbund that covers the rear fuselage.
It might yield a more streamlined look, and if you tilt your head just right and squint in a certain way, it almost gives the illusion of upward lift.
But I wouldn’t declare it an especially original design. Qantas has worn the same tail cummerbund design for some time, and according to Henry Harteveldt, one of the industry’s most respected analysts, “It’s not a livery that reflects disruption or innovation. And [the blue tailfin] made me think of UTA from the 1970’s or Atlas Air.”
A fair amount of fuss was made over the new shade of blue, which feels a little warmer, deeper, and greener than before, but it doesn’t make up for the most strikingly curious update of all: the removal of yellow from the encircled crane logo on the tail.
Goodbye, Lufthansa Yellow
One has to wonder why. The previously blue crane over a yellow circle with a yellow outline was the distinctive hallmark of how the fleet distinguished itself from so many other blue-based carriers on the ground.
As those in the branding world well know, “owning” a color is always the loftiest goal.
UPS owns brown, Coca-Cola owns red, John Deere owns green, Home Depot owns orange, and so on.
Whether blue is a metaphor for the sea or the sky, or if it represents part of a national flag, there is a tsunami of it parked at any gate around the world.
From KLM to Korean, from United to El Al, from LAN to LOT, or from Garuda to JetBlue… If blue is table stakes for most airlines, then how exactly could the removal of yellow benefit Lufthansa when it afforded the carrier so much brand equity? And does this move give Spirit Airlines unchallenged ownership of the yellow airspace?
Make no mistake, RAL 1028 otherwise known as “Lufthansa yellow” is prolific. Not only as the accent color but as the basis for the carrier’s differentiation.
No matter where you look: the timetables, the crew uniforms, the dishware, the website, the seat trim, the advertising, the signage, the apps, even the Senator Lounge furniture, yellow adds a cheerful, definite, approachable warmth to the otherwise austere dryness of a dark blue world.
And yet today the airline proudly unveiled their divestiture from warm approachability into a maze of invisibility, while simultaneously demoting their crane from yellow to white on its 100th birthday.
The airline’s head of marketing, Alexander Schlaubitz, insists that “the crane was never intended to be over yellow. It was quite coincidental.”
But Spohr, who proudly sported golden socks on stage, added that yellow would still be an “emotional” part of the brand and will be used in an “even more targeted way.”
At the end of the day, the new paint scheme probably won’t make much of a dent to Lufthansa’s northbound revenue curves.
Harteveldt puts it best. “If people bought airline tickets solely on the basis of livery designs, Braniff would have never gone out of business.”
But the next time you happen to gaze out of a departure terminal window, you might look right past what used to be an arresting beacon of gold, one of the eye-catching brands of our lifetime and notice sadly that Lufthansa’s fried egg is gone.