• Transform magazine
  • February 25, 2024


Rewind: Monarch Airlines


Once travel royalty, now defunct, how could Monarch Airlines have turned its nosedive around with a fresh approach to brand positioning?

Timothy Ruthven, head of marketing innovation, Imperial College Business School

The demise of Monarch is a good reminder of how easy it is to mislead the trusting public. Personally, I’ve always been dubious of brand names that imply something they are not but I imagine one would struggle to find anyone who would have ever described this airline as painter Sir Edwin Landseer’s ‘Monarch of the Glen.’

We’re taught that brand names need to be distinct, short and easy to pronounce but most importantly that a brand must do exactly what it says on the tin. In this respect, Monarch failed at the first hurdle in 1967 but still managed to see business through to its 50th anniversary. It does leave me wondering what brand name it could have chosen that would reflect the brand position Monarch spent 50 years establishing in the minds of customers?

It’s a healthy reminder to spend more time defining our brand objectives when developing new brand names, screening and studying candidates till we are certain the selected brand name is going to reflect the position we want to hold in the minds of our customers relative to competitors. And finally, please do check what the URL might be – we all remember the ‘Speed of Art’ story.

Sholto Lindsay-Smith, director, Industry

Monarch was one of the oldest British airlines to have never changed its name. It should have.   

Only with the arrival of the next generation budget airline did it have to consider brand. But by then it was on the back foot. The new generation airlines had built high profile brands around a low frills approach. By contrast, Monarch, bound by its overheads, found it hard to switch gear. It focused its marketing on quality and customer happiness versus cost. It changed its advertising slogan to ‘The Low Fare Airline That Cares.’ But who would believe that? This was its first branding mistake, it was neither a budget carrier nor a premier airline.

To tackle the headwinds, it repositioned itself as a ‘scheduled leisure airline’ with the slogan ‘Fly Your Way Every Day.’ It was Monarch’s second branding mistake. A nonsense proposition. Then the airline regrouped and formed a new strategy to become a long-haul budget carrier. It was set to become a pioneer again. It placed an early order for the new Boeing Dreamliner widebodied jets for use on long-haul routes. But fate struck. Delays pushed back delivery and the airline announced the cancellation of the order. It had to give up on exploiting a new niche market and retrench into the European market. It was bowed by low-cost rivals, the internet, terrorism, and then Brexit.

But perhaps its biggest mistake was to not rebrand following the 2014 sale to Greybull and separation from the Cosmos holiday brand. It missed the moment. It had the ideal opportunity to redefine itself through a rebrand, and become a true challenger to easyJet and Ryanair’s tired brands.

But instead, until its demise, most people probably continued to think of Monarch as a charter airline rather than a scheduled airline, as it failed to capture the new generation of passengers that book direct via the internet. It was a case of an early disrupter that got disrupted.

Jacob Benbunan, CEO and co-founder, Saffron

For a company with such heritage, it’s sad to see Monarch collapsing in its 50th year. But there is also a sense of inevitability about it. The company never fully recovered from the low-cost airline boom of the early 2000s, as companies such as easyJet, Ryanair and Vueling disrupted a business model based on increasingly out-of-fashion package holidays.

However, Monarch’s demise is due as much to its weak brand as it is to the shortfall in its business model.

Low-cost travellers, like anyone else, want more from their airline. They want a partner with personality, a proposition they understand and the promise of a certain experience. With its flip-flopping from long haul to short haul and back again in the weeks before its collapse, consumers were unsure for what Monarch stood.

Most damningly, it’s difficult to imagine any residual value in the Monarch brand itself. It’s hard to think what we’ll miss with Monarch gone, and for any business that’s equivalent to being grounded, not able to lift off.