Kulula – The Airline That Doesn’t Take Itself Seriously
Having identified a gap in the market for a low-cost airline to bring air travel to the South African masses, Kulula.com launched in July 2001. It operates on major domestic routes out of Tambo International Airport and Lanseria on the outskirts of Johannesburg. As building a business based on price alone would make it vulnerable to attack from more established airlines, it has hewn a positioning based on ease, inspirational service and safety. This is summed up in its name which means ‘easy’ in Zulu. Though most distinctive are its brand personality traits. Being totally honest, straight-forward and helping people lighten up.
Kulula.com is an airline that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its humourous brand personality is evident in all aspects of the experience:
Launching with a budget of just 3m rand (c. £200k) demands cut-through communication. Their super heroes launch campaign with catchy jingle espouses “Now Everyone Can Fly”. Watch the launch trailer and note there isn’t an aircraft to be seen.
Product and service appearance
Similarly to easyjet’s bright orange in the UK, Kulula has adopted a distinctive lime green livery. The unconventional markings include ‘this way up’ and arrows pointing to parts of the aircraft, for example, rudder, nose cone, sun-roof and where ‘the big cheese’ (‘captain, my captain’) sits.
In 2010 South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup and Kulula.com ran a campaign describing itself as the “Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What”, which took place “Not next year, not last year, but somewhere in between”. Another advert announced “affordable flights [to] everybody except Sepp Blatter” (the FIFA president), who was offered a free seat “for the duration of that thing that is happening right now”. Obviously, oblique references to the World Cup which FIFA intervened to stop. Thus creating even more publicity for Kulula.
Kulula flight crew are encouraged to be friendly and let their natural talent show through. This is evident in the entertaining in-flight “safety lecture” and announcements. Here are some examples that have been heard or reported:
“Welcome aboard Kulula 271 to Port Elizabeth. To operate your seat belt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seat belt; and, if you don’t know how to operate one, you probably shouldn’t be out in public unsupervised.”
Meet Kay Lula … the hostess with the mostess …..
“Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we’ll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you, and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than Kulula Airlines.”
“Your seats cushions can be used for flotation; and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments.”
“Kulula Airlines is pleased to announce that we have some of the best flight attendants in the industry. Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight!”
“We’ve reached cruising altitude and will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants.”
Here are some comments heard after a few extremely hard landings ….
“Please remain in your seats until Captain Crash and the Crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt against the gate. And, once the tyre smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we will open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal..”
“Please take care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted.”
The airline has a policy which requires the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exit, smile, and provide a “thanks for flying our airline”. In light of a particularly bad landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment. Finally a little old lady walking with a cane disembarked saying,
“Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?” “Why, no Ma’am, what is it?” said the pilot. “Did we land, or were we shot down?”
Part of a flight attendant’s arrival announcement:
“We’d like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you’ll think of Kulula Airways.”
“As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses.”
“Please be sure to take all of your belongings. If you’re going to leave anything, please make sure it’s something we’d like to have.”
“Thank you for flying Kulula. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride.”
1. Designing brands with personality, i.e. characteristics, beliefs and behaviours enhances stand-out.
2. In a world awash with corporate grey, a rich and clear personality, breathes colour and life into brands. Executed effectively this maximises impact, engages and forges a strong emotional connection with customers.
3. When problems occur or disasters strike, as are prone happen in the service industry, a self-deprecating or humourous personality can defuse issues and provide a stress release or antidote.
As Kulula says “smiles and jokes are free” (1). And great ideas make budgets go further.
4. A humourous brand personality and message engages and entertains. In turn this creates a talking point and encourages sharing via social media and email. And leave readers to wonder whether this is an April Fool’s joke or not….
Thanks to Joe Flynn for inspiring this article.