Hullo John, got a new motif?

Mark Rowe on why big businesses spend millions on new logos
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Will it work or won't it? British Airways unveiled its new tailplane motifs last week amid great publicity, but the airline's move is a brave one.

Most companies that relaunch their image opt for a unifying approach under a single logo, but BA chose to replace its abstract Union Jack tailplane with designs from, among other sources, China, Canada, Poland and the Ndebele tribe of southern Africa.

The thinking behind BA's move is the fact that 60 per cent of the airline's passengers are no longer British. Deals with airlines in France, Germany, Australia and the United States mean that BA handles greater numbers of foreign passengers and staff.

Wally Olins, founder of Wolff Olins, the corporate identity consultancy, is in no doubt that British Airways has shown the way forward. "The move to a variety of tailplane designs does not diffuse their image. It may not be in BA's interest to appear to be too British any more," he said.

John Sorrell, of Newell and Sorrell, who designed the new look, believes others will have to follow BA's path. "A lot of organisations have used very limited images with which to present themselves to the public. As we move into the 21st Century, companies will have to diversify in order to give themselves a competitive edge," he said.

"The new tailplane designs are just the tip of the iceberg. We have been developing a variety of tones with which BA can speak to audiences in different countries."

During the past 10 years, many blue-chip companies have redesigned their logos: BT introduced a piper; Prudential came up with an image of Prudence and even the Church of England joined the rush for a new logo.

BP, which went through major restructuring in the late 1980s, unified its exploration, oil, chemicals and coal businesses under the familiar green and yellow logo. Following a pounds 1m review of its corporate image, in 1989 it concluded the most dramatic change it could make to its logo was to shift a roman-style "BP" to italics.

"The italics fitted nicely with the change in the company at the time," said a spokesman. "Forward-leaning letters seemed to add momentum to a revamped company going forward to a new strategy."

In the case of BP, the revamped logo was accompanied by a restructuring of the company, in which it acquired other petrol chains. In addition, all its 22,000 petrol stations across the globe were painted in the uniform "BP Green" and rebuilt to a single design - at a total cost of pounds 171m.

By their tailfins, Business