Case in Brief: Kulula Uses Humor to Amplify Its Marketing Impact

The low-cost South African airline attracts the attention of potential customers through creative thinking and wit, saving it millions in marketing.

With so many airlines for travelers to choose from, South African airline Kulula Air decided to distinguish itself from the competition by making its planes stand out among the many others parked at airports. The low-cost airline covers its planes with amusing images that bring a smile to the faces of weary travelers, to help keep Kulula top of mind when travelers book future trips.


With a limited marketing budget, Kulula Air needed an inexpensive way to reach potential customers. So the airline decided to attract attention by using its planes as flying advertisements.


Kulula, which is owned by South African aviation company Comair Limited, wanted to establish itself as a unique airline with a fun personality, says Heidi Brauer, executive manager for group marketing and loyalty. The aim was to use sophisticated humor to put some fun into flying and make the most of its limited marketing budget. Since the airline's first flight in 2001, rather than simply printing a logo on the side of its aircraft, Kulula decided to give passengers and plane-spotters a glimpse of its fun personality by covering planes in tongue-in-cheek messages, including a camouflage plane, and one depicted as a container, with "This Way Up" printed on the side. The airline's 12 planes are all different and Bauer describes the strategy as a wonderful opportunity to tell a story about the brand. For example, last year Kulula launched its Flying 101 design, which names different elements of the aircraft, including the "sun roof" (the cockpit windows) and the big cheese (the captain).

The fun side of Kulula goes beyond its livery and extends to hilarious comments during the pre-flight safety demonstration and landing, its in-flight magazine, and television ads. A YouTube video gives a glimpse of the airline's answering machine which tells customers to press four if they want to be the next President. "Humor is our trademark," Brauer says.


Kulula's planes are so creative and unique that photos of the planes have been emailed around the world. Flying 101 triggered scores of news articles and blogs; as a result, the airline is now a quasi household name, recognizable even by those who have never traveled on it. "Customers love [our planes]. They have become part of our personality," Brauer says.

In a decade the airline has gone from just one plane to 12 and is now carrying about 200,000 passengers every month.

Lessons learned

Be creative: Novelty attracts attention and will help get your brand noticed while saving money on marketing.

Use humor appropriately: Well-used wit can help garner attention, but it's imperative that it's not overdone or in bad taste.

Ensure brand consistency: Uniformity across different touchpoints ensures that the company is delivering the same message consistently across channels.