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#8 - JRL 7013
St. Petersburg Times
January 10, 2003
Hammer and Sickle To Fly High No More
By Simon Ostrovsky

MOSCOW - Eleven years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle continues to fly high over Russia - but not for long.

Aeroflot, the former Soviet Union's monopoly carrier, says that it will drop its Soviet-era logo as part of a new campaign to radically modernize its corporate image.

"We were surprised to find out that as many Russian customers as foreign customers have negative associations with the symbol," said Yevgeny Bachurin, Aeroflot's commercial director.

Long infamous for its drab style and mediocre service, the airline has hired Britain-based consulting firm Identica Ltd. to rework everything about the carrier's image, including its attitude and its style, especially the uniforms.

Though the rebranding strategy won't be unveiled until March, Aeroflot has revealed that a revamped color scheme will include orange tones and navy blues, because their former colors, drab blue and white, are considered too cold.

Navy blue represents the traditional color of aviation and the oranges are meant to evoke sunrise and sunset as well as shades of khokhloma, a type of Russian national folk art, the airline said.

Aeroflot hopes a more modern style will bolster its business. Once the world's largest airline, Aeroflot's passenger rates have been falling while its revenues are rising.

It expects to have carried 5.5 million passengers by the end of this year, down from last year's total of 5.7 million, but it expects to more than triple its net profit to $75 million, a figure Bachurin said could be much higher if "tens of millions of dollars" in revenues weren't lost due to the weakness of the brand.

"Passengers are losing trust in our brand," he said.

"We started by taking a look at the visual aspects of our brand ~ how it's presented, how it looks, how our planes look ~ and we came to the conclusion that there is no conformity in how our company is presented, no binding idea, and this causes the brand to fall apart in the eyes of our passengers," Bachurin said.

Though most of the restyling will be aesthetic, the company also has plans to make changes to its service, Bachurin said. For example, the airline intends to make its in-flight food service resemble restaurant service, where passengers are offered a menu and can eat any time they choose. A flight demonstrating the new service will leave Moscow for New York on Dec. 25.

Aeroflot began its bid to cater to Western travelers three years ago, phasing out smoking on flights incrementally, banning smoking on flights less than two hours in duration in 1999. The smoking ban on flights bound for the United States took effect on March 30.

Last year, Aeroflot instructed its flight attendants to smile more with passengers, even launching a campaign to explain its previous lack of friendliness: "We don't smile because we are serious about making you happy." Now, not only will new recruits be selected for their foreign language ability and statuesque builds, but also for being "more caring and more polite."

The airline released a lengthy motto Wednesday expressing their updated philosophy: "Russian hospitality provided by sincere, spirited people with elements of the best traditions and modern way of life."

Unmodern aspects of Aeroflot's exterior will be touched up or changed. Brown shapeless trays are to be replaced with brighter models, food containers are also to become more shapely, morphing from rectangles to sleek ovals.

Aeroflot will institute a unified color scheme for the seating in all its planes. Though the airline has concentrated its efforts on attracting the top-dollar international business traveler market, Bachurin assured journalists Aeroflot would devote equal attention to improving domestic flights ~ where the quality of planes and service is notoriously low.

More sophistication will mean 5 percent to 10 percent higher ticket prices, Bakunin admitted, saying business- and first-class travelers will see the greatest increases. He noted that company surveys had shown 80 percent of respondents were willing to pay more.

Identica 's Tim Barson called Aeroflot's uniforms reminiscent of military garb and outdated. Aeroflot has solicited uniform proposals from the country's leading fashion designers, including Tatyana Parfenova, Nina & Donis, and the Ekspotorg design collective, whose competition entries can be found on the company's web site (www.aeroflot.ru). The winning design will be chosen by a jury of fashion professors and editors and launched Feb. 9, to coincide with Aeroflot's 80th anniversary celebrations.

Although Aeroflot's new image will be the result of taking a more Western approach to doing business, Barson emphasized that part of the strength of the brand remains the fact that it is Russian.

"Being Russian must be part of the brand," he said.

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