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Delta's New Branding Won't Work.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on May 22, 2007

Have you noticed all that nice, clean, cool advertising coming out of post-Chapter 11 Delta? It’s all part of a marketing campaign to announce Delta’s “new era, introduce an updated, boldly modern corporate brand and showcase a reinvigorated customer experience,” according to the company. You can even watch Entourage.

Problem is, I flew on the first day of Delta’s emergence from bankruptcy and it was a nightmare. I came up from Mexico City, where a computer failure forced the passengers to wait on the plane for an extra hour—or was it two? When I arrived at JFK in New York, Delta blithely told the passengers that 96 bags had not been put on the plane because of “rebalancing” issues. Now what does that mean? That’s more than half the people on that flight.

They would arrive the next day, Delta promised. My bag didn’t arrive for three days.

Remember all those Ford ads describing how innovative the company was? It just didn’t ring true to consumers. Same thing with Delta. It can hire the very best ad agencies to write a terrific narrative but if it doesn’t deliver the minimal basics, consumers won’t buy it. In fact, this kind of branding antagonizes consumers and makes them feel like they are being suckered. Which they are. Delta is failing branding 101.

Reader Comments


May 22, 2007 7:54 PM

Great articles and design insight. You might like to visit my laboratory sometime at I appreciate any cross-links. I am an avid RSS reader and am looking forward to commenting on your insights sometime.
Sincerely, Damon.

Robert Mark

May 22, 2007 8:16 PM

When I was in graduate school, they beat "big picture thinking" into our heads.

When I see strategies like Delta's new paint, it makes me believe the airlines need more than a few folks focusing on less strategic issues.

After all the grief the airlines have been through, just since 9/11, why isn't anyone at Delta wise enough to say, "Service improvements could be our strategy rather than new paint?"

What's that definition of neurotic ... doing the same thing again and again hoping for a different outcome?

How many times do you think the airlines need to keep relearning that "what makes customers really excited about our airline is probably good for our airline?"

Save the paint and keep the fares low and the service up and I'll fly your airline. That doesn't sound that tough to me.

Must not be high level enough thinking though.


May 23, 2007 12:04 AM

Companies are too eager to roll out a new logo without first realizing that their corporate identity isn't their brand. It's like the magazine that revamps its cover, but fails to address the poor content that mucks up the pages inside.

Jessi Hempel

May 23, 2007 3:47 AM

Funny you should blog about the Delta ad campaign because it caught my eye during prime time Sunday. I haven't flown Delta yet, but I made a mental note to check out their flights because I was so impressed by the ad. It inspired with its promise for change and its Jet Blue-like sleekness. I'm booking a flight this evening, and I'm caught in the choice of whether to give them a chance because of that ad (that I loved) or skip them because of your opinion (that I trust). And I find that their fare is not the cheapest. Flying is expensive, and becoming more so. The lowest fares always win me over, regardless of the carrier.

R Williams

May 28, 2007 9:18 PM

Dear Mr. Nussbaum,

I couldn't disagree more from your assesment of Delta Air Lines' rebranding.

You take from your one delay that assesment, and, while, as a Delta employee, am sorry that you were inconvenienced in any way -- that the entire effort to change the way our company is perceived is a failure. From one delay.

That Delta was even able to go into Chapter 11 and come out was incredible. That the pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, ground crew and all administrators were willing to take wage cuts after years and years of no raises was a work toward a goal. Rising costs of benifits with no complaint. We know others are paying more, too. Seminars, and continual reminders that the customer is FIRST and that we need to be the great company we once were and always have been dispite rapidly decreasing revenue -- an airline ticket costs the same as it did 20 years ago - with all costs rising...

All this and from one flight, you deem our rebranding as a failure. I'm sorry you were delayed, Sir.

But dispite your delay Delta has energised all of it's employees through seminars - leading the way to excellent customer service. Worked to have our planes cleaned quickly. And worked toward Delta being the #1 major carrier that is: Safe. Clean. On Time. All with pay-cuts for all employees. Our Beloved CEO, Mr. Grinstein did not take even A PENNY of the rewards of our emergence from bankruptcy, setting a huge and incredible example of what it is to be a credible, genuine man, a leader...with guts and integrity -- and not greed. A leader for all executives in America who want to lead their corporations to be leaner, and happily more competitive. No other airline that has done this can say that.

Sir, I smile and thank from my heart each and every passenger on our planes. I thank you for being on DELTA for your one, regretfully, delayed flight. I THANK YOU for giving us a chance, and as a flight attendant who is on hundreds upon hundreds of on time flights know that yours was a misfortune - regretfully, know that we will move on from this. On hundreds and hundreds of flights -- a delay on Delta is rare - we are often early!...I challenge you to look at DOT statistics. That being said I am sorry you were delayed.

I believe that the "rebranding" of DELTA is wonderful. That logo and the "widget" - our emblem -- only begins to represent all of the changes that our company has went through. It at once represents change, and our heritage.

It is a great, new day for Delta Air Lines, and all of the over 50,000 employees of Delta know it. We are working to be absolutly best airline in the world, one customer at a time.

Thank you for flying Delta. I hope we get another chance to serve you.


November 14, 2008 12:50 AM

Let's get real here...I am personally NOT a fan of Delta Airlines, but to base an assessment on "a delayed flight" well, WHAT planet have you been on for the last 20 years?

Delta is NO worse than 99% of all the other large carriers on this planet. I would venture to say that I give them a point for TRYING to improve.

In fact...I will give them a try and look for more than a delayed flight.

For you, try a train next time or hope a private flight if your time is that precious.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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