Can Air Canada get hip with rouge?

They wanted our attention. They got it. Air Canada rouge's first flight takes off in just over a month, and the public has gotten its first taste of what to expect as the new discount airline debuted new uniforms this week.

That Air Canada has suddenly and very publicly become fresh and sort of hip is the not-so-subtle and interesting part. By domestic airline uniform standards, the look is colorful and sort of stylish, and the uniforms are supposed to symbolize the company's cost-saving philosophy.

The reaction has been mixed. One commentator called the look cute; another proclaimed it ugly. Headlines ranged from "New uniforms for Air Canada: It's like Glee in the sky!"  to "Air Canada's 'rouge' leisure airline is tough on staff."

The concept was developed by Montreal's VF Imagewear and infuses rouge's signature colours of burgundy and slate with bright accent colors, the company says. That is supposed to create a fresh, simple and relaxed style in keeping with the vacation atmosphere onboard. Distinctly fashionable elements include John Fluevog shoes.

So will it fly?

"The really interesting thing is they're trying to establish a market image of being hip and cool and low-priced," says Ken Wong, a professor of marketing at Queen's University.

But it's too early to tell if the buzz will pay off, he adds.

"The proof of that will come when the airline is up and running. Advertising of this sort does a good job of generating interest and maybe even stimulating trial, but if the product doesn't perform there's no repeat business and it's all for naught," says Wong.

Air Canada is expected to rattle the low-cost leisure travel market in Canada with its new airline, stopping off at destinations in Europe and the Caribbean. The company, in the midst of cost-cutting measures to the tune of $50 million in the current quarter, hopes the carrier will be a way to reclaim market share and bolster its bottom line.

Apart from the new look, Air Canada is also banking on a fresh face. Rouge attendants will get some customer-service training at the Disney Institute in Florida, with employees reportedly paying a portion of the costs.

Air Canada has achieved what any good marketing strategy should accomplish. It has created buzz around its product and service, cute, ugly or not. The underlying message was bang on: cheap doesn't mean low quality; you can be economical yet stylish. This applies to the clothing. Can it apply to the airline when service begins July 1? It really has to.

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