Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

26 June 2014

If an airline were to claim to be “the world’s most trusted airline”, what would you think? Personally, I’m fascinated by airlines and the branding decisions they make so my mind would start to run. Perhaps an airline staking the claim did a scientific poll. Or, better yet, maybe the carrier did an exit poll of people in the taxi queues at airports around the globe. Surely, if you make that claim, you’d need some decent metrics to back it up?

Enter Delta Airlines, one of the world’s biggest and most profitable carriers. In early June the Atlanta-based company actually filed for a trademark of the slogan “The World’s Most Trusted Airline”. The claim comes from pure numbers. The airline flew more than 120 million passengers globally last year. This made them number one in the world in terms of passengers.

Based on this, it would seem that Delta is equating ticket sales to trust. I get the logic: more people bought tickets with us, thus they must trust us more. It seems pretty cut and dry. If more people fly with your jets then you are more trustworthy. Still, does that mean you can lay claim to being “the most trusted”?

If we’re going to play the passengers-flown-equates-to-public-trust game then we should point a few things out. Late last year, one survey found Delta to be the least-respected brand in the US. It even beat – or was less respected than – tobacco giant Philip Morris and 24-hour diner chain Denny’s. On the other hand, Delta was also named “most admired airline” worldwide by Fortune magazine.

So it’s beginning to look like, in the airline and big-business world at least, the words “admired”, “trusted” and “respected” don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another. But I take issue with this. How can you be “admired” but not respected”? How can you not be “respected” but still “trustworthy”? I’ve even confused myself.

Many brands toss about words, titles and claims. They do it so frequently and with such little regard for what they really mean that they end up stripping any meaning from them, full stop. In the case of Delta, it has attempted to trademark the trust it thinks the world has shown it. And the US patent and Trademark Office has officially denied Delta’s application.

Tristan McAllister is Monocle’s transport editor.

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