Emily Tan
Aug 22, 2013

AirAsia Japan's new name Vanilla Air "not boring" in Japan

JAPAN - After the split up of the joint venture between ANA and AirAsia, budget carrier AirAsia Japan, now wholly owned by ANA, was rebranded Vanilla Airlines, a name critics have labeled as "bland".

Ishii: everyone loves Vanilla
Ishii: everyone loves Vanilla

According to Bloomberg, the name was chosen out of a list of 200 with Tomonori Ishii, president of the new airline explaining, "Vanilla is loved by everyone in the world... the smell of vanilla makes people relaxed."

While the 'vanilla' is synonymous with 'safe and boring' in the English-speaking part of the world, it's nothing of the sort to Japanese says McCann Worldgroup senior strategic planner, Sakura Irie. "The brand is clearly targeting young Japanese budget travellers so what it means in English, does not really matter.

"In Japan, vanilla doesn’t have any connotation of being boring or bland – and the overall impression of the word is very positive. It is accessible, likable and familiar. Moreover, it gives the impression of being 'pure and innocent' and 'kawaii'  - which means a lot more than 'cute', it's the feeling of emotional excitement, endearment and desire to be a part of or to own," she continued. "It's an interesting, and in fact, very Japanese choice, I thought."

"The brand name is not going to put anyone off boarding," commented Antony Cundy, executive business and strategy director at Beacon Leo Burnett Communications in Tokyo. "For most Japanese people the sense of the banal and tasteless in the image of vanilla is not the same as that it receives outside it. Vanilla therefore has a fresher, sunshine related image to Japanese people and that makes it a simple fit for the proposed routes."

However, Nori Takahiro, CEO and co-founder of consultancy Marketing Engine concedes that Japanese businesses should develop a broader understanding of global culture, which may have saved the airline from criticism over its chosen brand name.

While full service carriers may not wish to tap into the notion of 'kawaii', it may work to the advantage of budget airlines. Japan's other budget airline, Peach Aviation, for example, is partly owned by ANA and also aimed at branded-kawaii. Nevertheless, Ishii told the WSJ that Vanilla would go out of its way to avoid "bumping heads" with the rival carrier.  

"As ANA looks to expand its strength off the back of the launch of its other partly owned LCC brand PEACH and with JAL likely to come out of government control soon and therefore more likely to need to take some risks, Vanilla is a natural extension of its offering," said Cundy. "Plus, the routes chosen are well trodden escape destinations for generations of young Japanese people making failure highly unlikely."

That Japan's only two budget airlines have food-themed names may come off as a bit odd, said Takahiro, but Irie is more positive. "This could work in a market where overseas travel is as common as weekend shopping, and where physical comfort and safety have become the expected category standard that does not differentiate," observed Irie.


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