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As Air Vistara dies, can Brand Vistara live?

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, writes about how it can make good business sense to extend the equity of Vistara to other compelling services

From signals loud and clear, it is plainly apparent that Air India is absorbing the dashing sibling Vistara within its fold, while being totally fair to every employee. It makes imminent business sense just as the idea of extending the lovable equity of Vistara to other compelling services. 

But first, it is necessary to analyse the Camelot attributes of Vistara in its minor tenure, short lived but well lived. When domestic aviation was reconciled to the uneasy equilibrium that premium did not mean business, chastened by the debacles of Jet and Kingfisher, Vistara was the happy equilibrium. Driven by the acumen of SQ and Tatas, it promised sustainability in tenure while not compromising on the prevailing tenets of luxury, whether commendable food or cosy attire or finely upholstered seating. A fine deviation from Indigo’s holstered regime, punitive and frugal and the erstwhile state-run national carrier’s unpredictable mood swings. 

To put it rather plainly, Vistara was pretty much the Taj Hotel in the skies and it could well be the Oberois. As in a certain elegance in conduct, driven by an agenda of customer delight and inspired by a non-disregardable ethos over time. You could not expect Wagyu Beef in the top tiers but at the very least there was a sensibility of empathy, folks recognising that customers were spoiled in New India and needed the perks of pampering. Whether Business, Premium or pure Economy, a pattern did persist, magnified eloquently in the September 5 JRD Tata Retrojet flights. 

But then, Vistara is dying and the doctors have passed the damning verdict. While a funeral seems obvious, the tendency of my thinking is veered towards rebirth and it may possibly be inspired by Rishi Kapoor’s Karz and the Simi Garewal of the piece is regrettably the necessity of survival. So purely as a creative exploration, we may wish to explore the product and service arenas that can be propelled by a brand like Vistara, borrowing judiciously from its abruptly terminated tenure.

At its defensible core, the brand stands for democratic elegance - a graceful standard of service extended whether you fly no-food backroom or Starbucks frontend. The equipment is quite sharp as well, mood lighting an expectable feature in cahoots with prime terminal slots and generous pilot announcements. The colours are calm, not offensive and the manners are civil, not argumentative while the attempt seems most sincerely to be respectful, and occasionally charming. These are valuable attributes, well worthy of a resurrection that may withstand the turmoils of time. 

One can easily imagine Taj Vistara, a range of easy premium hotels which can actually replace the current Vivanta terminology - business at heart but leisure in spirit. Vistara can even become a chain of Premium Casual Dining restaurants, from the Tatas, offering Indian palates a modern day version of how Indigo Deli mesmerised us - millets coming to the party in full finery. Taking the airline connection further, it is not impossible to envision RTE kiosks with cool dining presented in faux 35,000 feet packaging, as takeaways or even office dining.

Through classic brand extension principles, when the values supersede the category, a range of stylish casual apparel may also be a possibility - perhaps sold exclusively on as Air India inflight exclusives. Energy drinks and even beer can fit in the brand universe as can a digital-only content magazine - focussed on lifestyle and pop culture. Electric two wheelers ( scooters or bikes) sound interesting as well, blending a bit of solidity with a lot of spunk. You may well concur that the imagination can fly rather high in an exercise of this magnitude. 

What is happening to Vistara is clearly a matter of Brand Euthanasia, the terminal disease in this case a clash in the terminals. Air India has clearly done the right thing by choosing to discontinue the sibling brand, although it could well have become a silver bullet in the industry. Problem is that such benefits would not pass on the parent and indeed, complicate the already quirky equilibrium of a global-cum-local carrier - uniformity in customer engagement and expectation management surely non-negotiable. The only submission is that the brand need not die, or rather, the values lovingly embellished can hasten the success of potent businesses in the group’s current or imminent portfolio. 

Nokia is a fine recent example of a brand terminating its reputed consumer electronic business and moving on to B2B network infrastructure and communication technologies, propelled by a recent logo change. Movenpick is an eclectic instance of a luxury ice cream equity successfully moving on to boutique hotels, while ownerships may vary the equity is designed to stretch. There are many other examples of such a stretch but the Vistara case is special because the original avatar will be discontinued and the spirit may linger in new age entities. 

The trick for the Tatas will be to recognise and appreciate the worth of the worthy they have created and mandate the evaluation of its potential to none less than topmost management, liberated from airline imperatives. Brand Vistara deserves to live, not just as a pretty emotion but as a sensible balance sheet strategy.

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