air india new mascot

Air India’s new mascot has suddenly taken centrestage on social media but sadly it isn’t receiving rave reviews.

For those of us growing up in the 80’s in a developing independent India, the Air India mascot was more than a ‘cute’ centrepiece lying on our showcases. It represented the pride of a nation, a symbol of what the country can be capable of, the collective Indian joy caught in the welcoming hands of the Maharajah. But, the pride of the nation came crumbling down in the last decade only to teeter towards near collapse, as best summarised in the Sunday Guardian.

Now holding on to new measures of business and a resurrection from the ruins, the airline is looking to capture its lost glory in Indian aviation. When PM Modi met aviation minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju in June last year, he suggested that the aam aadmi must replace the maharajah as the mascot of Indian aviation. The suggestion was in context with the ministry bringing in new policies to make flying within the reach of a common man.

Well, Air India chose to take Modi’s mascot idea of a common man and rehashed the old Maharajah.

Last week the merged airline unveiled its new mascot – a younger ‘Maharajah’ sporting spiked hair, jeans and sneakers, to represent the new age common man. However, much to our surprise, the distinctive long twirling moustache of the Maharajah is still on!

A senior Air India official who handled the Maharajah makeover explained to the TOI, “The new Maharajah is aligned with the modern times and with the new AI which is also trying to cut flab to become a lean commercial entity.”

A makeover gone wrong!

The airline needs more than cutting flab off a monstrous entity that made losses year on year, while a few greedy politicians got richer on the way. But, that is an altogether different story.

The young ‘Maharajah’ has been likened to all sorts of dolts. Twitterati is replete with calling him names like the ‘show off stud’, lecherous jaat boy, press pohotographer, or the tout you need to avoid.

The tweets listed below reflect the growing negative sentiments floating on Twitter:

Clearing the air

The airline is in dire need of a brand consultant if a mere rehash of an old mascot stands for rebranding. But looking at the airlines tweets, I believe they also need an ORM expert to handle the backlash with grace. Following the kind of welcome the new AI mascot has been receiving on Twitter, the brand has put up a three-part series of tweets hashtagged #MaharajahSpeaks. It mainly conveys that the new mascot is the same as the earlier one but suited to the occasion.

I remain the mascot of Air India, the way Bobby Kooka created me

“#MaharajahSpeaks: I am overwhelmed by the support I have got for my original traditional attire and style. Just to clear the air, the young image is one of my many avatars to suit the occasion and activity. check out more at this link. Yours truly…I remain the mascot of Air India, the way Bobby Kooka created me,” the Air India Twitter handle tweeted.

Checking out more at the link which is the brand page from the company’s website, one can better understand the Maharajah. Jointly created in 1946 by Air India’s Commercial Director, Bobby Kooka and an artist from JWT, Umesh Rao, the Maharajah is reportedly not royal, though he may look like royalty. Kooka had stated that, “We call him a Maharajah for want of a better description. But his blood isn’t blue.”

Laying this aside the new avatar story, the young Maharajah too lacks a strong definition of character. This young guy might look lean, but he isn’t lean. This young guy might look trendy, but he isn’t trendy. This young guy might look dynamic, but he isn’t dynamic either. What the brand should have done is worked on its services to clear the air, rather than rehash old mascots and create unnecessary headlines.

Last July AI became a member of Star Alliance thereby offering a wider choice of flights from across 26 international carriers. The new mascot had hoped to keep pace with the other partner airlines, but alas!