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Editorial: Japan Airlines Logo Revival is a Mistake

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Japan Airlines has decided to return to a logo it used for over 40 years. This is a Bad Idea.

By Karn G. Bulsuk


After emerging from bankruptcy, Japan Airlines has decided to dump its modern logo to revert back to the crane logo it used for almost 40 years.

While JAL President Masaru Onishi justified it by stating that it was an attempt to go "back to the basics, when we had the spirit of challenge," it almost seems defeatist to look backwards in an attempt to go forwards. Having once been a state enterprise with all the inefficiencies associated with that label, it is odd that they look to the past for inspiration. In fact, it is because of the government entity legacy that caused them to go bankrupt in the first place, creating too many unneeded jobs and continually flying unprofitable routes.

Japan Airline planes with the current logo and livery
In addition, despite minor updates to the "tsurumaru" crane logo, it is still graphically out-of-date. Companies throughout the world have been busy updating their logos to suit modern tastes, with simplified logos, sans-serif fonts and small caps. Bucking this trend runs counter to consumer expectations and may give the impression that the company is not ready to move on. The new logo is simply out-of-sync with the direction global corporate branding is going.

The font used on the plane reading "Japan Airlines" has been updated as well, moving from a crisp sans serif to a thick, Arial Bold like font. "JAL is a premium-heavy airline and their aircraft/branding needs to look as such," comments Gilbert Choy, a plane enthusiast. Unfortunately, it practically screams "budget airline", while the lack of contrasting colour or motif near the front of the plane makes the whole design look unbalanced. The use of all-caps has also been depreciated in the past decade, making the whole plane like a relic from the 1980s.

Re-branding carries costs as well. JAL will need to "update" their logo on everything that bears the JAL emblem, from envelopes to flight attendant pins.

My message to JAL: don't bring back the crane. A logo is a very powerful image - are you sure you want to bring back the past with all its baggage along for the ride?

The first JAL plane to be painted with the "new" livery


Photo credit:
Not quite a photographer: Plane watching from Narita

Disclaimer: The opinions stated in this article are mine alone, and do not constitute the views of any companies, organizations, clients, or affiliated companies that I may have been affiliated with.

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4 comments »

  • Guy Srzednicki said:  

    I agree...going back to the old logo just makes JAL look dated. I don't think it's a case of what worked in the past can work again...not in this case.

  • Gilbert said:  

    I personally liked the crane itself. It is a timeless classic, like the Lufthansa bird, the UAL tulip and Air New Zealand's logo. Nevertheless, the way they did it is just atrocious. I saw the picture of the entire plane and it is a disgrace. As bland and cheap as it gets. JAL is a premium-heavy airline and their aircraft/branding needs to look as such.

    That said, if they couldn't integrate a modernised crane in their current (now old) paint scheme, they should have killed it off for good.

  • Tangos echo said:  

    A well written and insightful article. The key point being that going back to roots is a good thing on occasion but not this time. The baggage and association with the government owned company not to mention the "tsurumaru" on the tail forever linked to an image of the 747 crash into a mountain makes no strategic sense whatsoever. I was on the Landor team that did the re-brand from the government airline to JAL. There were some incredibly forward thinking ideas and the Japanese nemawashi sent it backward to mixing the two symbols..the JAL Mark and the tsurumaru with one being dedicated strictly to the tail and the JAL Mark representing the new enterprise. I don't know who did this or suspect there may not even have been a consultant involved but a design formulated by their engineering department. I suspect marketing didn't enter into the picture. That is truly retro. Prior to working on the BA new brand in 84 liveries were the realm of engineering.

  • Karn G. Bulsuk said:  

    Hi Tangos echo

    Thank you for your comment. Would you like to share what went through the thought process in the Landor rebranding? I cannot seem to understand why they would discard their previous "rising sun" brand, which I'm sure they would've spent a lot of time thinking about.

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