Pan Am: Licensed to Fly Again

You are welcome to share your thoughts on this article written by Renée Whitworth, Strategic Partner at Flood Creative, New York

Predictions are that a Pan Am stewardess costume will be as popular for women this Halloween as a Charlie Sheen costume will be for the men. And if you are in the market for the iconic travel bag, it’s already on backorder everywhere.How this ‘dead brand’ made its way back into pop culture is a concept not that far-fetched. Mad Men and Playboy are both trying to resurrect the glamor of the 60’s and Pan Am was an integral part of that. It’s even understandable that there are over 6,000 vintage collectible items on eBay. But what the Pan Am license is doing in today’s consumer products is a bit of a “reverse commute”, if you will.

What we (over age 40) still consider the epitome of the most glamorous way to travel, Pan American Airways dates back to 1927 with a fascinating history that involves a fear of a German aerial attack on the Panama Canal; a virtual government supported monopoly on foreign routes; and the most sought after stock in 1929. Read more history if you care to… 

As an entity, here are two big Pan Am highlights:

  • Clipper trademark in aircraft names and call signs
  • the unofficial flag carrier of the United States

But as a beloved icon, here are some of the real magic moments:

  • Beatles landing at JFK
  • Official “exporter” of American Culture
  • The futuristic terminal design and the polarizing landmark building that straddles Park Avenue
  • Glamor and adventure for the pre “women’s lib” generation

Fast forward to 2011 and the company’s new mission statement: “It is our objective to utilize Pan Am’s colorful history to bring back the original Jet-Setter values and restore civility, adventure and fun to the travel experience”.

There is a market for brand new, not merely vintage, products: Marc Jacobs bags, watches, cufflinks and even ‘skybelts’ for your pants.

According to Variety, here is the backstory on how the rights have been transferred over the years:

“The intellectual property for Pan Am (full name: Pan American World Airways) is owned by the privately-held Pan Am Systems, which is run by Mellon banking heir Timothy Mellon, as well as David Fink and son David A. Fink, among others. The original Pan Am filed for bankruptcy and shut down in 1991; however, the name has been licensed to other small airlines since then. No plane has flown under the Pan Am name since 2008, however. More recently, the Pan Am name and logo were used by designer Marc Jacobs for a line of hugely successful handbags and accessories. Sony and Ganis had to wait until Jacobs’ license to use the Pan Am name and logo expired before moving forward. The rights have now been fully licensed for the show, Van Amburg said.”

It’s curious to witness the reverse situation of adult entertainment licensed properties like Mad Men, which started as a show and became the inspiration for products such as Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers clothing, Barbie Dolls, Lipstick and e-cards. In fact for a show about advertising, Mad Men ironically generates an insignificant amount of advertising revenues (approximately $2 million per year with a production cost of $3 million per episode). More money comes from licensing and syndication.

So back to Pan Am, which actually was an airline brand. Now it’s an entertainment property that is becoming a brand loosely linked to travel, yet not to planes.

In an era where nostalgia can be as lucrative as new, one can only assume that there is another ‘dead brand’ lurking right behind it.

About the Author

Renée Whitworth is a strategic partner at Flood Creative in New York. Over the last 15 years she has developed a reputation for providing unique insights that help every facet of design come together with a singular, shared focus.