Qantas in Hot Pants – Melbourne F1 Grand Prix

Melbourne has the hype of the Grand Prix this weekend, when petrol heads from around the country descend on our fair town for some thrills and spills. The event is a highly subsidised marketing program designed to build the profile of Melbourne internationally and, along the way, inject some dollars into the local economy. There is always heated debate about the merits of hosting this event. The suggested cumulative $622m cost to tax payers since the circus began in the mid 90’s in Melbourne means that the event represents a huge ‘opportunity cost’ to the communities of Victoria what ever way you cut it.

But the cost to stage the Grand Prix is really a discussion for another time. Instead let’s explore the challenges associated with creating on-brand experiences when it comes to sponsorship. In the last few days we have just witnessed the unveiling of new outfits for the ‘grid girls’. Importantly from a brand perspective we have seen how sponsor Qantas has had a shot at making the somewhat raunchy presence of grid girls into an acceptable advertising medium for their brand. An interesting challenge, but one clearly understood by designer Kit Willow who designed the new uniforms:

”Qantas … wanted style and elegance for the grid girls,” she said. ”But, then, there’s the grand prix,
and, um, I had to keep sympathy with, um, its tradition of, um, well OK, tits and arse. That was
the challenge.’’

The question is has Kit and Qantas succeeded in maintaining the tradition of the grid girls but also provided an on-brand canvass on which to broadcast the Qantas brand. Certainly some media comments suggest they have fallen short. In fact one fashion commentator called it a politically correct step in the wrong direction. Another using a pun about the runway to give it the thumbs down….’but when it really comes down to it, high fashion looks are best left to the runway, not the highway.’

You be the judge as to whether you like the Kit Willow design, but from a brand perspective it is a great reminder of the need to align your sponsorships with activities that positively connect with your brand. The more you have to force-fit the activity to suit your brand suggests that perhaps you are exploring the wrong opportunities. But having said that it is the very fact that Qantas has to work at making the grid girls an acceptable brand expression that has given it some potency. The mere fact that they have shifted the grid girl outfits away from the bare-it all format has said something positive about how the Qantas brand views the world. If they had simply stuck their logo on the traditional attire of the grid girls,  they would have been out of whack with their conservative corporate positioning. The re-design it self has already generated huge media exposure with its unveiling, and all that is before race day where their logo will be strutting the grid for world wide audiences to see. Hate or love the new designs perhaps this is one force-fit sponsorship that delivers acceptable returns to the brand.

Having said all that, please let me leave you with this thought, imagine the re-design if Virgin Blue had been the sponsor. If you are picturing a totally different image then you are probably understanding the different personalities of these competing brands… in fact wouldn’t it be interesting to observe a Richard Branson led design of the grid girl’s outfits. I am sure there would be a chorus of approval from our petrol head audience.

Peter Singline
Brand Scientist


  1. Pete, I agree, the fact that Qantas have changed to look of the grid girls is the bold part of this brand gesture. For me they scored double points for this brand sponsorship; firstly for the impact they get from revolutionising an institution, secondly by making it such an on-brand revoltion, they re-inforce both their brand positioning and reinforce their competitive point of difference in the marketplace.

  2. Gangster like hats, sheer version of early Victorian top with the qantas sign looking like a brooch, shorts & shoes out of a cheap bondage mail order. There is too much happening and clashing. Could that be the intention?

  3. whoever selected willow should know better because the outcome was almost surley going to be her signature hallmark of floaty/draping and feminine and not what I would call synergy with the grand prix or Quantas. The girls look like look dark and frumpy. Strong & chic with an element of sharpness about it may have been a better approach this is just messy.

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