Spreading a whiff of frankincense

Srinivasan Iyer gets to know how TBWA\Zeenah went about the process of Oman Air logo redesign

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Oman Air's rebranding campaign has been the talk of the town for nearly a year ever since the government took a controlling stake. In an interview with BusinessToday in September last year, Oman Air CEO Ziad al Haremi said the airline was working on an extensive rebranding exercise. The khanjar does not really convey the idea of hospitality or tourism. We are working on something that is neither overtly flamboyant nor too conservative. Work on the exercise has started in earnest and if things work to plan, the airline will fly its new colours by March 2008."
What would replace the ubiquitous khanjar that had remained the identity of the carrier for 15 years since its inception in 1993 was a matter of great debate since then. But the entire exercise was shrouded in secrecy and only after the unveiling of its new logo - a gold and silver swirl, which is a contemporary rendition of frankincense smoke - at a glittering ceremony on February 23, 2008, did Haremi identify the creative agency behind the new logo as TBWA\Zeenah.

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Brainstorming an idea
BusinessToday caught up with Ivan Sidzhakov, associate creative director, TBWA\Zeenah, who gave the lowdown on how the agency, which beat stiff competition from several other agencies to bag one of the most prestigious clients in Oman, went about the task. The crack team for the project, apart from Sidzhakov, included art director Jack Samaha and senior art director Tariq Ansari.
Says Sidzhakov, "The brief from H E Mohammed al Zubair, chairman of Zubair Corp was to come up with a fresh identity that better reflects the characteristics of Oman while keeping it distinctive. Working on the identity of the flag carrier was prestigious; it was a dream account."
The agency needed some starting point to proceed with the job at hand and started looking at various symbols that represent the country. They also needed an identity that was different from regional carriers like Emirates and Etihad.
"Wings were among the first ideas to be considered, because of its obvious link to flying and aviation. Dozens of ideas and symbols were discussed, including date-palm tree. But we eliminated the date-palm idea very early as Saudi Arabia has it on practically everything, including its national airline."
Finally, through a process of elimination, the creative heads at TBWA\Zeenah zeroed in on frankincense. "It was always up there. It is truly unique to Oman, which is the frankincense headquarters of the world."

The idea gets a shape, and colour
Representing this aromatic resin befitting the national carrier was the next step in this long process. The guys at the agency brought in a devil's advocate, who gave them a frank and unbiased opinion on whether the logo that evolved worked and suggestions to improve it. "We came up with quite a few versions including the leaf of the tree. But then it looks like any other leaf. So that was instantly discarded. What we liked about the smoke swirl logo is how it evolved. The USP of frankincense is its fragrant smoke, which wafts through the air and the smoke-swirl logo justifies the aroma and wings. Oman Air will take this fragrance to the different parts of the world," Sidzhakov explains the rationale behind the logo.
On the gold and silver colour scheme of the logo, Sidzhakov says that it partly came from elimination. "There are far too many greens and reds when it comes to airline logos. They also have gold in some way or the other. We zeroed in on gold because it represents the colour of frankincense and sand. The silver was originally intended to be a darker shade of anthracite grey, but the client requested us to lighten it a bit and we went in for silver." According to him, one proposal included painting the aircraft livery in anthracite grey, but the airline went in for turquoise blue.
Not many would know of the time and effort that went into this project. "It was in October that we started the project and it took us a month and a half to complete it. The biggest motivating factor for the team was the honour of being involved with such a prestigious client and project. We were hard on each other's work until we were sure that we really liked it."
The team at TBWA\Zeenah did not leave anything to chance. Before submitting the logo to the client for approval, they critically reviewed the logo on how it would look on the aircraft from every possible angle. It would suffice to say the presentation made to Oman Air's top brass was a success. It goes without saying that the team members are on a high and pleased as punch as they watch the national carrier take off in its vibrant new colours.
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Spreading a whiff of frankincense
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