Debrief: A wing and a player

21 Nov,2011

By Anil Thakraney


Many experts (and non-experts!) have given us their views on the Kingfisher airline mess. Many reasons why the airline is in trouble have been speculated upon. And all this while the man in the hot seat, Dr Mallya, only posts pissed-off tweets. But doesn’t tell us what really is going on.


Here’s my theory, and I put it out despite the fact that I know as much about the airline industry as Rakhi Sawant knows about nuclear physics. And I do so because I believe the main problem isn’t really about the business itself, it’s about branding.


Yes, Mallya and gang have messed up on the running of the company. Yes, they could have handled flight scheduling better. Yes, they should have hired better talent at the top, and yes, the government’s unhelpful policies have added to their woes. But the real problem is that Dr Mallya has fallen into a self-created trap. Because the Kingfisher airline is a brand extension of the high selling and very profitable Kingfisher beer, it must carry forward the brand values of the latter. Any deviance from those would hurt the beer brand, because they share the same identity.


Now, Kingfisher beer is synonymous with good life and high living. And has been so for many years. If the airline goes totally cheap and down-market, it runs contrary to the mother brand’s values. I suspect this is the battle that Dr Mallya lost, because it has conflict embedded within. With the downturn in the economy, spiraling cost of fuel, heavy taxes on airline travel and some serious competition in the sector, downgrading Kingfisher airline, cutting off all the frills, was the order of the day. What Dr Mallya did instead was to spend more on comfort, food, service and entertainment. And sent the operational costs crashing through the roof. He HAD to do this because the Kingfisher brand = Good life. He had no choice. Dr Mallya cuts the good life on the airline, it comes straight back to haunt his cash cow Kingfisher beer.


Make no mistake about this: Dr Mallya is no spring chicken when it comes to dhandha, he runs a massive, very profitable liquor empire. He knows a lot about costs, revenues and bottom-lines. Where he went wrong was in the branding strategy. That trapped him big-time. He ought to have coined a new, independent brand name for the airline. A stand-alone brand that fights its own battles and is unburdened of any legacy. In which case Dr Mallya could have taken tough decisions on his airline. He could have gone really low-cost, and may well have been saved from the miseries he’s facing today.


Perhaps he should have called it ‘Deepika’ airline. His equally flamboyant son would have approved! 🙂




PS: Very happy that the media left Baybee Bachchan alone. Maybe Justice Katju has got to them. Maybe the broadcast editor’s guidelines were taken seriously. Maybe an earlier post from me opened their eyes (hee hee). Whatever. But this incident could well be a turning point for Indian journalism. Let’s hope so!

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One response to “Debrief: A wing and a player”

  1. Aman says:

    OK great idea that we must keep our business brand names separate, if one tanks the other can be saved. But what if it is a chain like supermarket chain or fast food chain or school chain ? It is not practical right?

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