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Straight from the Heart: How storytelling played a role in Southwest Airlines’ new visual identity

Something very important started brewing at our client’s headquarters last summer. It was an exciting time for Southwest Airlines: their merger with AirTran Airways was midway through completion, international service was on the horizon, and the end was near for the Wright Amendment, which set restrictions on direct flights from Dallas Love Field, Southwest’s home airport.

The stars had aligned into a marketer’s dream: it was the perfect time to re-energize the visual identity of one of America’s most admired companies. The task given to Lippincott, a brand strategy and design consultancy, was a tall one: distill more than 40 years of brand history into one modern, impactful look that represented the future of a one-of-a-kind airline. And as Southwest’s content marketing agency, Pace’s role was to tell the story of this new brand through our in-flight magazine.

A New Magazine

For starters, we changed the name from Spirit to Southwest: The Magazine — keeping the same editorial spirit alive, but more clearly articulating our connection to the airline. And we started work on a special, celebratory second version of our September issue.

We redesigned many pages and departments, including our signature travel feature, “Adventure In.” And we went behind the scenes of the brand transformation, spending time with the major Southwest players who guided the effort in order to tell the story through an exclusive two-spread story in the commemorative issue. Pace got a sneak peek at every aspect of the new visual experience, from the planes themselves, to the airport wayfinding experience, to southwest.com, and even those famous complimentary peanuts.

Southwest Has Heart

We lived and breathed the new brand for six weeks in order to accurately capture its essence in the pages of our magazine—all the way down to the cover. Southwest was in possession of only a few physical versions of the new heart logo, and they were kept under lock and key. In total secrecy, we were able to have one of our favorite photographers, Adam Voorhes, photograph the iconic heart for our special edition.

Meanwhile, Southwest was planning its big reveal, and our magazine played a huge role. On September 8, as the hangar doors at Love Field rolled back to reveal a new plane, Pace’s commemorative magazine was handed out to an audience full of Southwest employees, special guests, and the media. Southwest: The Magazine told the story of the branding effort in a way the airline couldn’t, using our content marketing expertise to shape the narrative of the process and convey the effect it would have on Southwest’s customers and the airline industry as a whole.

What It All Means

For Southwest, a revitalized visual identity confirms its presence as a major domestic and international carrier. It signifies the bold, professional polish and the heart that’s always been the core of their business model. And for Pace, it’s a pivotal point in our relationship with one of our highest profile clients: telling their brand’s story in a meaningful way at one of the most critical moments in their history.

By Melanie Clancy

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