The Hong Kong skyline branding on HK Express A320: PR photo

A new case study in comparative airline branding has begun. The new look launched for HK low cost carrier Hong Kong Express 香港快運航空有限公司 is pitching an individualistic branding exercise against the generic uniformity of the trans border Jetstar franchise livery.

It won’t matter if Jetstar Hong Kong flies or not, since the two brands will compete in what is often described as a commodity price driven market for air fares on routes where other Jetstar franchises flying to Hong Kong will likely clash over flights to same cities if their respective networks expand as intended.

Hong Kong Express, founded in 2004, has a complex if not colourful history, however late last year changed from a full service single aisle operation to a low cost carrier with five A320s, which it intends to grow to a fleet of 30 by 2018. That’s the same initial number of A320s already delivered to Jetstar Hong Kong, but which are idle at leasing costs of around $A 400,000 a month each because the new Jetstar franchise hasn’t been able to secure permission to operate as a Hong Kong designated carrier.

The new look for HK Express revealed this week poses the question as to whether individuality in branding versus the generic imagery chosen by the likes of Jetstar or Tigerair  is bankable. There is no obviously correct answer to that question. It may depend on the cultural consumer psyche in Hong Kong or Hanoi being fiercely supportive of nationalistic brands for example, while in other markets, Australia springs to mind, choice may be exercised more on the basis of price or perceived value.

Brazil’s large and successful low cost carrier Gol made life very difficult for any low fare competitors to muscle in on its act by choosing a name that means Goal!, or Score! to mobilise consumer loyalty in a country fixated by Soccer, oops, football.

Ryanair however succeeded in making an Irish branding work all over Europe for its massive low cost network, except that everyone starting with CEO Michael O’Leary argued that it was the price not the name that was always the clincher while the name really meant that “your airport might be in a different county, or even another country to the one you think you are flying to”.

Hong Kong Express is also unusual among low cost carriers in not actually stuffing its seat plan to the maximum numbers specified in its certification. It has 174 seats in its A320s versus 180 in Jetstar’s, AirAsia’s, Tigerair’s and so forth. This appears to mean next to nothing in terms of discomfort relief, but it would only have to remove a further row of six seats to offer more seat pitch in a single aisle jet than most full service carriers today.

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