Will Tango’s brand message fly?

Flying on a discount jet plane may not sound like fun, but 'fun' is the supposed brand personality of Tango, Air Canada's new value-driven carrier, which takes off Nov. 1. However, analysts believe that, regardless of its marketing message, the new offshoot will only confuse consumers

Flying on a discount jet plane may not sound like fun, but ‘fun’ is the supposed brand personality of Tango, Air Canada’s new value-driven carrier, which takes off Nov. 1. However, analysts believe that, regardless of its marketing message, the new offshoot will only confuse consumers, since they probably won’t be able to separate father from son.

Like the strategies of similar carriers (such as Canada 3000, which considers the launch of Tango a hostile act and has asked the federal Competition Bureau to issue a cease-and-desist order against Air Canada), Tango’s marketing will mainly consist of newspaper ads. But, its efforts are ‘wrapped in clothing that is very fresh and fun,’ says Noel O’Dea, president and director of creative and strategic planning at Tango’s St. John’s, Nfld.-based agency, Target Marketing & Communications. The brand colour is purple (Ed note: Shades of aubergine?), which he says helps to convey the overall feel. ‘We’re trying to evoke the richness in the brand name, and offer a positive association.’

Indeed, Tango’s new ads are cleaner than the usual price-heavy fare from discount airliners. Says O’Dea: ‘The tagline is ‘say hello to Tango,’ and that’s because it is a metaphor for movement and freedom, which ties back to the brand.’

But will the new campaign actually convince consumers to go for a ride? According to O’Dea, the softening economy has boosted the number of price-conscious flyers out there and the tragic events of Sept. 11 have also influenced the timing of Tango’s birth.

‘The drop in consumer airline travel has had a negative influence on the entire market,’ he explains, adding that this factor accelerated the need for ‘a new product that offers freedom of travel at a low price with the security of the Air Canada brand behind it.’

While the target was initially cost-conscious leisure travellers, it has been expanded to include business flyers who could use a price break in the post-Sept. 11 economy, adds Air Canada spokesperson Laura Cook.

‘We’re seeing that they’re looking for the same deals,’ she says. ‘While the airline is cutting costs because of economic shortfalls, on the other hand, we need to stimulate the market and you do that by making available a product customers will be interested in.’

Cook explains that in its pre-Sept. 11 research, Air Canada found consumers wanted to tailor ticket prices to their own pocketbooks and tastes; therefore, they would accept a carrier that sold fares for a base price then charged for amenities, such as meals and entertainment.

But while the launch of a discount airline might make strategic sense during a recession, similar airline-within-an-airline initiatives haven’t flown in the past, says Mike Boyd, an airline industry analyst and president of The Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo. He points to US Airways’ struggling discount carrier MetroJet as an example. ‘It doesn’t work because you’re confusing the product,’ he says. ‘You have Tango, and then you have Air Canada. People will think Air Canada is gouging them. That’s the message it sends.’

Also, he warns that if similar tactics haven’t worked south of the border, they are less likely to succeed here, where the population base is quite small. ‘You have East and West, and not a lot in the middle. How many flights can you put between Toronto and Edmonton?’

Morten Beyer, of Arlington, Va.-based international aviation consultancy Morten Beyer & Agnew, agrees, calling Tango a ‘dicey proposition.’ The only way it will reach projected heights, he believes, is if the carrier’s energetic brand image is convincing and seeps into its corporate culture. ‘Theoretically if they can get a vigorous, independent manager to motivate the employees and get the airline up and running, it may work,’ he says. ‘[But] as long as it’s seen as a clone of Air Canada, it’s not going to fly very high.’