can't buy me love

The Brand Irony Of JetBlue Hearting NY

Posted by Abe Sauer on September 21, 2010 01:00 PM

Three years ago the Empire State Development Corporation called for a revitalization effort for the iconic "I ♥ NY" logo to "restore the campaign to primacy among state tourism campaigns." The state organization made good on its promise by unveiling a new advertising campaign this past summer featuring celebs including Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin.

Now, the planet's most recognized place branding and tourism campaign will be appearing on JetBlue's advertising.

The airline brand's Empire State of mind and use of the logo represents the first instance of a corporation being granted permission to use the logo to promote its brand. That may come as a surprise to anyone who has ever been to New York and seen the logo plastered everywhere.

As brandchannel wrote three years ago, the New York state branding campaign's "reach and influence today is apparent as much in the number of academic articles written about it as in the number of knock-offs and imitators it has inspired."

(In fact, The New York Times just challenged readers to imagine what brands might next mesh themselves with the logo, with suggestions so far including NYC icons such as Gray’s Papaya, Nathan’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys, and Bergdorf Goodman.)

The bigger, eternal challenge facing the I ♥ NY logo has always been exactly what "NY" acronym stands for. Those ubiquitous "I ♥ NY" t-shirts sold in Times Square and beyond are not licensed. And few buyers would realize they're touting New York state, as tourists want the cheap tees as a souvenir of New York City, of course.

In a classic example of halo branding, the NY for New York state is most strongly associated with NYC. As we noted, "As much as the state of New York wants to take ownership of—and leverage—the 'I Heart NY' brand, it needs to realize that despite the logo legally belonging to the state, the hearts and minds of consumers and residents see it as a calling card for the city."

It's a truth that became especially reinforced after the events of September 11, 2001, when the tagline and logo were tweaked to read "I ♥ NY More Than Ever."

JetBlue, in tapping into the iconic campaign, cleverly tapped I ♥ NY designer Milton Glaser to rework his logo to highlight the brand's NYC love.

Of course there is a tremendous irony in the case of JetBlue's use of the logo. The airline secured its use as part of negotiations with NY state officials when the brand was threatening to relocate its corporate headquarters to Florida, a situation that led to a 10-year agreement, and was mentioned in the co-branding announcement. (Come to think of it, what's more New York than strong-arm politics?)

New York State governor David Paterson commented in JetBlue's press release that this "marks the beginning of a historic new partnership between JetBlue and New York State's iconic I LOVE NEW YORK brand. Tailored co-branding opportunities like this will help drive tourism to New York, creating new jobs and spurring economic development throughout the State. JetBlue has a historic link to New York State with a decade of operation here. The company's decision to rededicate itself to the Empire State and develop this unique marketing strategy truly demonstrates that New York is at the heart of JetBlue."

Fast Company's October issue also includes an interview with Fiona Morrison, JetBlue's director of brand and advertising, who discusses the partnership:

"As part of the deal to keep JetBlue in New York beyond its current lease (which expires in 2012), the state gave the airline the rights to incorporate Glaser's I ♥ NY in its marketing for the next 10 years. Despite $30 million in tax breaks and other incentives, Morrisson was most excited about working with Glaser's iconic logo.

Still, applying it is tricky. Simply coloring the red heart a JetBlue shade of blue, as some suggested, "would be the height of obviousness," Morrisson says. She and McCormick want to mimic how the airline went about renovating the terminal at JFK, with the new structure complementing the historic Eero Saarinen TWA terminal instead of dwarfing it. Similarly, the ad campaign aims to be respectful of the original logo. Who better to pull off that balance, Morrisson asks, than its designer?"

The fact that Glaser, now 81, no longer flies, matters little. He's "the Michael Jordan of design," McCormick says, in a rare moment of effusiveness. Glaser, with an unflappable manner and easy confidence that suggest a lifetime of pitch meetings, flips through the presentation book, explaining several images. When Morrisson pulls her black-frame glasses off her red bob, where they usually reside, and quickly identifies her favorite — the JetBlue and New York logos form an X, intersecting and sharing the heart — she can barely sit still.

"I just want to touch it," she says. Glaser looks pleased. "There's no hierarchy between them," he says. "Right," says Morrisson. "It's not 'Who loves New York more?'" After they discuss how the campaign could evolve, incorporating other treatments, Glaser smiles knowingly. "Now you just have to sell it," he says. She assures him: "It won't be a hard sell."

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