South African LCC’s hit-and-run marketing campaign sparks debate





Bizcommunity's take on the best branding and marketing stratergy of the year so far is quite interesting . Feelings are mixed over the new livery for kulula’s planes, as a recent press conference clip indicates. A company spokesperson said, “We thought long and hard about a slogan that truly represents who we are as an airline and communicates our passion for South African travel and this was the most fitting.” Media 24, on the other hand, reported, “kulula has all but hijacked South African Airways’ (SAA) recognisable branding for the proposed livery of its Boeing 737-800 fleet.”

The new design consists of a green plane (no change there), the name close to the tail (in a smaller script than before), a tail that’s clearly inspired by and derived from the South African flag (it’s much closer to the flag than SAA’s tail), and, most controversially, the following wording near the front of the plane: The Most SOUTH AFRICAN Airways.


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According to Ilse du Plessis, director in ENS’ IP Department, this is a fairly aggressive move, given that kulula has also gone to court over the legality of SAA’s bailout. She comments, as follows:
So what are the trademark implications of this, bearing in mind that copying is not necessarily illegal? SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS is a very descriptive trademark and descriptive trademarks are difficult to register, for the simple reason that they should be available to all. Yet descriptive trademarks can be registered if they have in fact become distinctive of one company – this might happen if one company has used it for many years. There is no doubt that SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS falls into that category, especially if one bears in mind that there are a relatively small number of players in the airline industry.
Descriptive, non-trademark usage
Therefore, it is very likely that the trademark SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS is registered for airline services but does that mean that SAA can stop kulula using the slogan ‘The Most South African Airways’ – probably not.
For starters, it is quite clear that a trademark registration is only infringed if it is used as a trademark. kulula will no doubt argue that it is using the term The Most South African Airways in a descriptive or non-trademark manner, as part of a slogan and as a genuine description of the characteristics of its services. Even if that argument fails, kulula will argue that there is no likelihood of confusion. It will argue that a mark, which is descriptive but is registered because it has become distinctive, is always weak and difficult to enforce. kulula will argue that a registration for SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS certainly does not confer a monopoly on the term ‘South African’.

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Representatives of both Comair and South African Airways will be present at the 2013 edition of Aviation Outlook Africa come meet and pick the brains of these brand architects .The Aviation Outlook Africa conference will be happening on the 25-26 June 2013. It will be bringing together airlines, airports and all commercial aviation stakeholders together to discuss the pros and cons of certain branding and marketing tactics  and other important issues affecting African Aviation To get more information email Tendi at