The King of Good Times is battling bad times, and all eyes are waiting to see how much the whole bailout issue will cost Brand Kingfisher. Right now, the airline business of Kingfisher is under deep scrutiny and the media focus has only heightened the negative atmosphere. Public memory, of course, is short and all ‘bailout’, ‘bleeding’ and ‘those who die must die’ phrases will be forgotten once Vijay Mallya is able to arrange the corpus to manage the airline’s functioning. Remember, Jet Airways employees’ protests against job cuts some years ago didn’t do much harm to the brand in the long run.
Kingfisher, known primarily for its beer, is unlikely to be affected. The brand has been there for a long time and people vouch for it. Even in this scenario, it’s the airline business that is under the scanner. The airline business is diversification of the core business, hence the impact on Kingfisher the brand would not be much. But when it comes to Kingfisher Airlines, people – especially frequent flyers and privileged guests wooed with the airline’s promise of an extraordinary experience – would stay away, considering flight cancellations and the consequent inconvenience.
Expressing his view, Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, said, “Kingfisher is a dominant brand in the Indian context. The brand for a start is a beer. And from there on has developed the brand equity of brand Kingfisher Airlines. To that extent, the recent sets of issues in aviation tends to hurt the equity of Kingfisher Airlines more than the beer. The airline is a service brand that touches the lives of hundreds of people. The beer is a product brand. To that extent there is less of an issue there.”
“The negative publicity that hits Kingfisher airlines is really about the pains of the traveller more than anything else. A traveller faced with flight cancellations at the last minute is impacted the most. This is where the biggest pain point of Kingfisher Airlines’ brand equity vests,” added Bijoor.
So at one level where the crisis has hit most is the frequent travellers, but that is more of a short-term problem. In fact, the brand has taken a beating but not as much. Even V Balasubramanium, Director at RainMan Consulting, is of the opinion that the brand would have been affected if the issues were that involving ethics or credibility but something like a ‘bailout’ and being cash-strapped will not impact it long-term as people already know that the airline industry is bleeding and the same goes for Kingfisher Airlines. So while the issue has not come as a surprise, it’s true that the rumours about large-scale layoffs or the airline shutting operations don’t exactly help Mr Mallya’s case.
One view that also emerges is that whenever UB has tried to diversify and move away from its core business of alcoholic drinks, they haven’t really succeeded. Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Brand-Comm said, “The next two to three months will be critical for Kingfisher, and how they manage to emerge out of this crisis and do damage control. There will be close scrutiny and overcoming this will be a challenge. There is a negative undercurrent especially among those who have raised eyebrows over the extravagant lifestyle and now the financial mess. I think it’s a wait and watch policy and the next couple of months will be make-or-break as far as the Kingfisher Airlines brand goes.”
As it stands, the Kingfisher brand which is primarily associated with liquor will not be impacted in any case, as it will have its loyal followers, but for the airline business, which is actually a brand extension, it’s time to be cautious and move carefully. “Kingfisher needs to get off the pedestal and talk and emote with its users and those sitting on the fence with reference to its usage. It’s important to be transparent and admit folly where folly lies. In reality nothing succeeds like success. I do believe this is a temporary blip in the brand equity fortunes of Kingfisher Airlines. With some degree of fund infusion, it will be business as usual,” concludes Bijoor.
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