Does your IFE system’s brand matter?

I think a lot about branding. Probably too much.

Often, I find myself considering what a brand means and is a product so commoditized that your brand doesn’t matter.

Obviously as an In-flight Services Manager at an airline, you care a lot about the brand of a manufacturing company. Tried and true companies are more likely to consistently deliver quality. But does the manufacturer’s brand matter to passengers? Do they have any idea that they are using a Panasonic versus a Thales system?

Unless you are an aviation blogger such as Brett Snyder or an avid flyer who checks in on before Facebook, then the answer is no. Which is no surprise. But what does strike me is how airlines have responded.

A brief history lesson

I need to contextualize my comments.

Brands have only existed, for the most part, for about 150 years. Some of the first products to be branded were soap and alcohol. The advertising campaigns were blocks of lengthy text telling you why you should buy a branded bar of soap instead of a generic bar.

From that humble start, branding moved into the era of mass marketing. Companies such as Proctor & Gamble told the world what to buy, and they were/are good at it.

But then things started to change and that change has only accelerated in the last 15 years with the advent of the Internet.

Consumers have been self-selecting into brand communities or groups around brands. In fact, many successful brands are only successful because consumers rallied around them and defined what the brand means (e.g. Timberland shoes).


So what does this have to do with IFE systems?

A very good question indeed.

Marketers and managers cannot use the same techniques that worked for much of the 20th century. Consumers have too much power. They can dictate what your brand means despite how much you yell otherwise. But they can also congregate around a brand and lift it.

Virgin America understands this truth very well. They don’t just offer an entertainment system, they offer the Red™ platform. They’ve created a sub-brand.

The Virgin brand itself acts as a master brand lending all of its brand attributes (e.g. fun, different and rebellious) and credibility to the Red brand. But acting as a sub-brand, Red allows Virgin and its passengers to collaboratively decide what entertainment on Virgin means.

For example, I can go online and find passengers with similar traits talking about Red as a brand and not just as Virgin’s IFE system. In fact, Red starts to take on a persona and a community builds itself around the brand.

This community creates value for the airline from word of mouth advertising to answering each other’s questions. Further, strong brands command strong price premiums (e.g. Apple).

Virgin has also been able to extend the brand with the Red Store, which becomes immediately identifiable and carries meaning.

Gogo vs. Row 44

You also see brand creation play out differently across providers. Gogo decided that its branded would be represented to the passenger across airlines. The upside to an airline is that Gogo has gone to the expense and work of creating the brand community. The downside is that the community belongs to Gogo and not the airline.

Row 44 on the other hand has gone the white label route allowing airlines to create a community and extract the value for themselves. But airlines have to put the resources into creating and maintaining the brand, if they even choose to do so.

The digE-brand

I would be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention how digEcor has approached this challenge. digEcor’s handheld IFE is branded digEplayer, alluding to digEcor and digital Entertainment. Passengers recognize the name and have formed a community around it. Passengers post videos, pictures and comments across social networks providing free word of mouth advertising for digEcor and airlines. Also, the community’s online interactions provide a wealth of information about user sentiment and preferences.

We carefully participate in that community and leverage it for our airline partners.

So what is your approach? How will you nurture the community around your in-flight entertainment, if at all?

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About Adam Williams

With six years of IFE experience, Adam is currently a freelance writer for several industry publications and marketing consultant for vendors. He can be found online at and @SpeakWithAdam.

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