Southwest Reveals a New Visual Identity, But You Better Not Call It a New Brand


It had been years since Southwest last had a media day, so I was surprised to see an invite come in the mail a few weeks ago. As we all know by now, the real reason for the event was to show off the airline’s new image. My reaction to the design itself wasn’t all that negative, but I still can’t understand why the airline felt this was needed. I think there’s more important work to do over there.

[Disclosure: Southwest paid for my flight to Dallas and my hotel]

Southwest began the day with a ceremony in stifling heat in a closed hangar. When the ceremony ended, the doors were pulled back and an airplane in a new livery was revealed. Here’s a 41 second video of the unveiling.

The, ahem, “heart” of the new look is in fact, a heart. Southwest has had a lot of logos over the years and the airline thought it needed a new, definitive symbol. (Up until this change, the airline had two logos that it still used – the winged heart and the departing airplane.) So it thought that it was time to start from scratch and do something new. This heart is going to be everywhere, including on the belly of each airplane. The goal is to make it an iconic logo like Apple’s; one where you don’t need to see the name of the company to know what it is.

Southwest Heart Logo

But Southwest didn’t actually want to start from scratch. It wanted to honor the past and the culture of the airline (which is why you aren’t supposed to call this a re-branding) and create something that would help emphasize what the airline stood for. Bob Jordan, EVP and Chief Commercial Officer said that basis for the new design was “our core values, low fares, and amazing employees delivering differentiated service to our customers.” Amazing employees? I can buy that, but I’m not so sure about that whole “low” fares thing these days.

Up to this point, I’m onboard. I like the idea of a recognizable logo, and the heart is an appropriate, simple symbol that looks good. But it could have been implemented into the airline’s existing livery and design and had the same effect. Southwest didn’t stop there, however.

Southwest Sans Font

First, it had a custom font created, called Southwest Sans. The font is meant to look more modern, and for now, it does. But it also fails to look distinctive in any way, and I expect it’ll end up dating more quickly than the old one, which I still think looks perfectly fine.

The colors were also changed. Canyon Blue is gone, replaced by the similar but brighter Bold Blue. In case you’re wondering, it’s accompanied by Warm Red, Sunrise Yellow, and Summit Silver. These will be used in everything from PowerPoint presentations to uniforms, and of course, the new livery.

The Southwest Tail

Since Southwest has had its name on its tail for more than 40 years, seeing the new tail with similar stripes but no wording looks oddly naked. The new colors make the airline look more leisure-focused. In fact, Spirit went with similarly-strong, primary colors when it changed its stripes to better align with its leisure target audience. Southwest, of course, is trying to become more and more business-friendly, so the new livery seems a bit contradictory.

That, however, is not the only contradiction we heard during the media days. We were repeatedly told how this was important to do, because so much has changed for the airline in 2014. (AirTran fully integrated, Wright Amendment lifted, beginning of international flights, etc.) Yet the airline insisted that this change be cost neutral. If there are any costs, then Southwest will force itself to reduce costs elsewhere to offset it. (If those costs could be cut anyway, however, then it’s still not really a cost neutral move.) For that reason, it will take 7 years before the fleet is fully painted. Airports will take 2 or 3 years.

Both Holly Hegeman from PlaneBusiness and later, Andrea Ahles from the Ft Worth Star-Telegram asked the right question in slightly different ways. If this is so important, then why not spend the money on getting it done sooner? The answer was that Southwest is a low cost airline so it needs to keep costs low. Still, if you think this is so important, then it should be worth spending on. Mixed messages.

As mentioned, I like the heart a lot, and I don’t mind the new livery, but the disappearance of that iconic red belly made me sad. I asked why the airline didn’t just keep the red belly, or as Herb Kelleher used to say, his red-bellied war birds. (You could still put a heart on it.) The answer was that only employees really identified with the red bellies, so they wanted something more distinctive (the heart). Maybe it’s just me, but I think Doug Parker at American is right. The livery is largely for the employees, so if they identify with the red belly, maybe you’d want to keep it.

Southwest Nose to Nose

With the new look, media day attendees were hoping for some more substance on the future of Southwest’s product and strategy. We didn’t get much of that. I was encouraged to hear the first acknowledgement that the new Evolve seats are simply not comfortable. They are working on fixing them with at least a new cushion and possibly more. But that was the extent of the news.

We were told that power ports are not being considered. With increasingly long flights expected (think about all that international expansion), these become even more important. But it’s not happening. And an extra legroom section? If it happens, it won’t be for years. As for free bags, the airline continues to very strongly say that it remains committed to the policy, despite it being hard to argue that at least a 2nd bag fee makes a ton of sense.

Southwest seems to want to serve everyone, but it’s hard to cater your product so broadly. That’s probably why the new identity focuses on love and customer service. It’s important and the airline should be proud, but it’s also pretty fluffy.

A new ad campaign is rolling out with this, and I thought it was quite good. A voiceover trying to hypnotize you to book at while staring into a turning engine? Hilarious. Another ad ending with “You can’t charge for smiles. Maybe that’s why other airlines stopped giving them away”? Very clever.

But one of the funniest lines of the day was a rejected tagline. “We’re 43. We’re from Dallas. It’s time for a facelift.” While funny, it does get to the, uh, heart of the matter. Southwest needs to work through a lot of issues as it reaches middle age. Who does it want to be? How will it compete? Heck, who does it even want to compete with? A 43-year old may think a facelift can solve all the problems in the world, but it never works. Maybe it’s time to see a shrink.

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30 comments on “Southwest Reveals a New Visual Identity, But You Better Not Call It a New Brand

  1. Man, I’d trade the paint job for a better chance at my afternoon Southwest flights actually leaving on time.

  2. Hideous paint job. Plus the stupid new advertising slogan “If it matters to you, it matters to us.”

    I’d prefer they spent the money getting my afternoon flights on time.

  3. I think they did a good job. (I’m a marketing professional and rarely fly them, FWIW.)

    The name no longer has anything to do with their product – just like Banana Republic no longer has safari patterns and a Jeep in each store.
    The colors keep them rooted in their history, but the font and heart help to take them into the future. A good balance, I think.

    I agree that the ops aren’t ideal, and the outlets issue is dumb.

    But on the rebranding – they can call it whatever they want, but that’s what it technically is – they did well.

  4. As a loyal WN customer, with around 250K points earned a year, this is a big huge “meh”.

    I work very near DAL, and fly out of it on average once a week, and this is not a big deal to me. I like the heart, its a nice touch. I do not like where it is being used on all those billboards on Mockingbird Ln, it seems like an after thought. Actually, really, on the plane it feels the same way.

    The colors do not bother me, I do miss the name on the tail in the old, albeit generic, Helevetica font.

    If you really wanted my attention: power ports, more legroom (I love it when I get a -500 airplane with all that extra space), better on-time performance, evening EB from the West Coast flights, and SEA and BOS added to DAL non-stops, just to mention a few.

    Livery change, and re-imaging, meh. The old one didnt feel old.

  5. I noticed the new TV ads while watching NFL games yesterday. Without a heart, it’s just a machine. That has a duel meaning – either it refers to the employees or the airplane is alive.

    The great Gene Wilder as DR. Frankenstein – LIFE! – LIFE DO YOU HERE ME! – GIVE MY CREATION ! LIFE!!!!

    I wondered why WN changed there ads completely, but now I understand it. I wish they used the team behind the Geico campaign however.

  6. Looks like “Facebook” airlines with that font. Ugly. The tail reminds me of Philippines Airlines for some reason. I really liked the current livery, and the brown one was cool as well. This is pretty cheesy looking to me.

  7. one of the funniest lines of the day was a rejected tagline. “We’re 43. We’re from Dallas. It’s time for a facelift.” While funny, it does get to the, uh, heart of the matter. Southwest needs to work through a lot of issues as it reaches middle age. Who does it want to be? How will it compete? Heck, who does it even want to compete with? A 43-year old may think a facelift can solve all the problems in the world, but it never works. Maybe it’s time to see a shrink.

    That’s one of the most creative remarks you have posted since I’ve been reading this blog & this is coming from a former psychology student. Bravo Brett.

  8. I do like the shade of blue on the body, but the red and yellow on the tail still flash visions of that baby diaper poop (tan/brown/beiger/whatever it was) color, and that isn’t good if they want t a fresh new feel. Don’t care for the heart and since you read more about people not liking WN, a heart doesn’t seem right.

  9. WN doesn’t have a heart for people who are severely peanut-allergic — I was told to STOP asking the people around me to not eat the peanuts, even though I had bags of pretzels ready to give them instead — and nearly diverted the flight when I had a medical emergency when everyone ate said peanuts around me. So now I never, ever fly WN and probably wouldn’t even if it was free.

    I do price-shop though and I’ve seen their fares go up and up. They are NOT cheap anymore unless you get lucky, and that happens to me sometimes on the airlines I do like, primarily AS.

    I stayed near PDX a few weeks ago and as the planes flew low overhead, I found myself thinking good thoughts about Southwest making their planes so distinctive, with that red belly that you can identify from a ridiculous distance. (Would WN have been mistaken for a war plane over eastern Ukraine?) And so of course, they’re messing with it instead of changing things that would REALLY matter to customers (power outlets, more flights, etc.) *sigh*

  10. I’m not a huge fan of the heart. Assuming it originates from LUV field, etc. Lame. It’s not iconic like Apple or Target because the name of the company isn’t synonymous with a symbol. Of all the airlines only Delta really has that, and they don’t really push the “triangle” that much. Alaska has the Eskimo (which IMO is nasty) and I’d guess most people outside of airline fans and west coasters don’t know what the heck that is.

  11. Oh no, another airline identity crisis. Southwest: focus on the customer. Give them on time, frequent, AFFORDABLE flights, with that little bit of Southwest flair you’re known for. You have a great brand with many differentiators, but based on the comments above, you’ve lost your shine. That’s something a bucket of paint can’t fix – especially if it’s going to take 7 years.

    Time to get a bag of popcorn and see where this leads…

  12. Southwest has a problem in that they are trying to compete both with the legacy carriers and also the ULCCs like Spirit and Allegiant. It’s really hard to court a business traveler when you have no first class to upgrade to (or least hope to), no assigned seating, and no power outlets. Especially when your walkup fares are the same as or in some cases more than Delta, United, and American.

    Hmmm…pay the same or more, and get a lot less? No thank you.

    And their cost structure and lack of add-on fees makes it tough for them to compete with the ULCCs.

    Southwest’s decision to keep only 737s also hurts them in flexibility of scheduling. The big 3 get major cost advantages when they can use regional partners…the cost per seat mile is much lower. WN doesn’t have that to compete, either. So in the end, WN is trying to be all things to everybody, and they aren’t doing a great job of any of them. Painting a heart on the planes isn’t going to help. I like the new livery, but that won’t change these realities.

    I live in Dallas, and I fly over 100,000 miles per year…but I would choose American over Southwest every time I can, Wright Amendment or not. AA gives me far more value, and in many cases charges less for it.

  13. Actually I don’t really care what they do on the OUTSIDE. I wish they’d spend it to make the INSIDE a bit more comfortable! It still feels like I’m packed into a sardine can!

  14. Southwest is surely one of the great stories of my lifetime. Add in the Wright Amendment fiasco and wow!

    Times change, I guess. I remember when with airlines, price seemed to be everything. Not exactly the case these days.

    Lots of radio ads in the DC area about the start of new WN nonstop service, National to Dallas LUV, beginning Monday, October 13 I believe it is. Not heard anything mentioning price. Seems that week WN has some $78 one-way, Wanna Get Away seats. Quite a bargain, I’d say, but no mention.

    Maybe WN is just being careful considering DOT’s recent finding that WN is not always making seats available for all of the low fares it advertises. But still, I’d like to hear something, if nothing more than to rattle the DFW route competitors around here.

  15. Meh, I don’t really care either way on the new livery.

    Biggest issue, as others have mentioned, is price. Even if you are checking a bag (and really, what % of travelers check TWO bags, outside of the Christmas season? Perhaps that’s why WN doesn’t mind giving a 2nd bag free?), WN often isn’t price competitive with other carriers, nor is it often schedule competitive. When prices after whatever bags etc I plan to check are about the same, I generally avoid WN just to avoid the cattle call.

    A secondary issue for me is that they have poor coverage in NY metro. Of EWR, ISP, and LGA, only one of those airports is even semi-convenient for those who live north of the city (Rockland, Westchester, or Fairfield counties). Would love to see service from HPN or even Newburgh.

    1. You have it here. The biggest problem I have with Southwest is schedule. I was taking them a lot five years ago or so when they had flights that lined up at good times of day for me. Now, they just don’t… The other issue with them is network for me. They don’t fly to two domestic locations where I do a lot of business (ANC and BIS) and nothing significant international.

      Sure, as the AA poster above said, I’ll take an upgrade when I can get it, but that isn’t significant to me in the grand scheme compared with schedule, network, and price. WN just isn’t consistently competative for me on those three.

      1. That was actually one of the things I noticed when checking WN’s route map. There is a HUGE (1000+ miles?) gap from MSP and Omaha to Boise and Spokane.

        Without doing any homework on this… As oil continues to take off in the Dakotas, I have to imagine that there should be some opportunities to get the roughnecks home or at least out of the cold… Even if that’s just a flight to another oil area (Houston?).

  16. Ugh, just as ugly as before……..Southwest, how about getting with some “hip” livery. Please !, time to get out of the 1970’s and Disneyland hype.

  17. “Only employees really identified with the red bellies…” Tell that to my 5 year old daughter. We live a couple of miles from OAK and she regularly looks up at the planes overhead and lets me know when she sees a red belly. (For the record, I like the new design, but I wish they had kept the red belly too).

  18. I agree 100% with Terry Maxon of the Dallas Morning News who wrote this last Friday: “My opinion about the new paint jobs for … Southwest Airlines airplanes? They don’t tell me what color my car should be, and I don’t tell them what color their airplanes should be.”

    Well put.

  19. The new livery isn’t offensive, but it sure seems to me to be a waste of time, given that WN has other more important things to worry about these days.

    First, amazing employees? In the past, sure, but these days, I don’t know that I’d call them “amazing” anymore. Sure, they aren’t UA-level surly, but there’s been a noticeable creeping in of “meh” attitudes among in-flight crews and gate agents over the last year or two. You don’t hear as many of the corny jokes, or see the outward friendliness that you did before. Terry Maxon had a couple of blog posts earlier in the summer about the unions’ complaints that employee morale is low. From that perspective, I think dismissing the red bellies as “something only the employees associate with” is a mistake.

    Second, no power ports is a huge mistake. Free streaming TV is a nice perk, but not being able to plug in on-board is going to neuter the usefulness of the perk to a good degree. It’s one thing on a DAL-HOU short haul, but it’s going to be quite another on the longer routes like DAL-DCA/DAL-LAX that will soon be coming out. I hope they reconsider.

    Finally, as others have alluded to, Southwest really needs to focus their energies on their timekeeping issues, rather than waste time and money on a new livery that (I’m guessing) most fliers aren’t really going to care about. WN has gotten away with its poor on-time performance so far, but how long will that last?

  20. I just wish that they would return somewhat to what made them unique in the 70’s up through about 5-7 years ago. Especially with regard to fares. They’ve essentially morphed into a hub and spoke airline with various other city pares thrown in. With that comes very high fares on routes with little or no competition. I remember when WN first came to BWI in 1993 with two nonstop routes (CLE and MDW). One of their marketing hooks was that they weren’t just competing with other airlines, but with cars too. They wanted to get people out of their cars for 300-500 mile trips and onto their planes. Of course, that is much easier to accomplish when fares are $39 one way. But alas, nearly every WN flight out of BWI that I fly is full or nearly full. Supply / demand economics tells us that they are pricing their flights at what the market will bear.

    I do like the new look better than the old one, and especially better than the burnt orange from pre 2002.

  21. I’ve warmed up to the new branding. (Yes, its is new branding, get your head out of your… err this is a family blog right?) I first thought it looked horrible, but I’ve warmed up to it.

    I think this is the first time Southwest has decided to bring all the branding elements together at the same time. Their branding elements haven’t all been refreshed at the same time, ever.

    I think they thought they had to do this since every competitor in the market is refreshing their brand and making it tighter, Southwest was going to look like quite a mishmash after a while.

  22. When they switched from yellow/orange/brown/whatever to the present scheme, I thought they hit a homerun. This new livery however, I am not a fan of. No Southwest on the tail is very surprising to me. The present livery just doesn’t seem old or outdated at all, IMO. The things companies spend money on sometimes……..

  23. i find the existing southwest livery a hideous eyesore, so this is much better. it always looked like an outdated, amateurish mess

  24. I HATE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They really need to bring back the tan color and the blue with the red belly!!!! PLEASE!

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