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United's new TV campaign. Effective or not so much?

August 11th, 2008 · 22 Comments · Branding, Copywriting, Media, Strategy

The airlines are in trouble, people complaining about flying, yours truly gets stuck in an airport or has a flight get canceled every time he turns around, and the hassle factor has never been worse.

Oh yeah…they’re now charging us for just about everything.  I expect the pay toilets to be installed any day.

We all know the airlines are struggling.  So if you were the VP of Marketing for United, what kind of commercials would you ask your agency for?  What would be your key message?

Check out these two new United spots and tell us what you think.  This first one is called "Heart."  (If you’re reading this via e-mail or RSS — click on the headline to view the spots.)

This one is called "Two Worlds."

So….what’s your take on the ads, their intent and their effectiveness?

(To see the entire campaign…)

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22 Comments so far ↓

  • Mark True

    Drew:

    The first thing I’d do is quit spending money on advertising, and put that money toward customer service training, attitude adjustments, cheaper membership in the club, etc. Make the experience better and word will spread faster than any advertising campaign.

    -Mark

  • Roger

    Do the airlines even have customer service??

  • Jake Volt

    These spots are absolutely gorgeous. Cinematic, engaging, and stirring, they harken back to the days when flying was romantic.

    Problem is, I don’t buy it for a second. What’s changed? Why is United better? How have they made flying as wonderful as the ads depict? What happens when people fly United and get bumped from their flights, wait hours or days in the terminal, lose their luggage, or get stuck in endless lineups?

    There’s an old saying in marketing: nothing ruins a bad product faster than great advertising.

  • Verna

    Although the ads are beautiful, I too wish they’d just put the money into service and more reasonable ticket prices.

  • BIG Kahuna

    It’s a good thing they are animated because it’s consistent with them being out of reality. These make no sense on every level. Good revenue for the ad agency though!

  • Kamy

    Hum… my first thought was Oh my, how beautiful. I really enjoyed watching these. However, it still cost to much to fly, so I will be driving to Nashville this Nov. along with about 120 other family members.
    I agree with Roger, What has changed? They need to actually DO something, not just say it.

    Both ads are very pretty though…

  • Chris Nolte

    I’ll agree with other posters – great ads – but I had a hard time making the connection or believing them.

    Interesting Gershwin adaptations for the music.

    On a positive note – maybe we’ll see more “artistic” ads in the future from companies.

  • Michael Libbie

    Sometimes if you have a MAJOR issue (problem) you can choose to ignore it….they have done well. Second thought: Could the second ad be the result of aging hippies spending media dollars on one more LSD trip?

  • Jimmy Chan

    There was a comment where there will be a trend where Advertising fall to Traditional Styles to make it effective like what United is doing showing Love (1st Ad) & Success/Pleasantness (2nd Ad).

    Now the Ads are a Great Example of Money at Waste as “Kamy” say No Connection and I have to add No Benefit higlight. Its Imaginary/Animation Ad does not reflect the Reality (better for certain product, e.g. Children Product but not Airline in this hard time) – it should have an Ad featuring Real People & solving Real Problem such as Ticket Price, Cust. Service, Delivery Speed & Reliability.

    Infuse Marketing into Creative & you get an effective Marketing Creative and not Creative into Creative which you’ll get Double Creative at Double Expenses and Double ineffectiveness.

  • Eamon

    Drew

    Just to let you know that I have included Drew’s Marketing Minute in Spotlightideas.co.uk ‘s Top 100 Advertising, Marketing, Media & PR Blogs.

  • Dave Weis

    I would be happy to pay 10%-20% more for my tickets if any airline would make flying less unpleasant. I’m amazed every time I take a flight it’s more painful than the previous one. Midwest has been the only one that flies out of Des Moines that doesn’t actively try to irritate me.

  • Drew McLellan

    Mark,

    You and I both know how expensive these spots must have been to produce. But that’s chicken feed compared to the media buy. I’ve seen them on the Olympics quite a bit. Those spots cannot be a bargain.

    Imagine the word of mouth if they took those same dollars and did something remarkable in terms of the customer experience.

    They’d see some serious ROI on that investment.

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Roger,

    You know, I fly 1-4 times a month, depending on the month. And I would answer your question with a “it completely depends on the employee.”

    I have had amazing service on United (my preferred airlines) and I have been treated as though I was vermin.

    The airline itself has created policies, fees and restrictions that make flying more painful. But, a conscientious employee can turn all of that around.

    A good reminder for all of us.

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Jake,

    An excellent point. These spots set some pretty high expectations. In today’s reality, they could indeed have a reverb effect.

    I also thought it was interesting that they’re promoting their higher end seats — business and first class. With the increasing price of a coach seat, I cannot imagine what a first class ticket costs today.

    While the creative is beautiful, the strategy is flawed, in my opinion. For the very reasons you cite.

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Scott,

    What about the spots doesn’t make sense to you? Are you talking the content — meaning you do not understand what they’re saying or just that they are out of touch with the reality of flying today?

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Chris,

    I thought the music treatment was pretty interesting as well. It was the first thing I noticed, actually.

    If airline travel wasn’t so difficult, would the spots have been compelling — do you think? Or were they just too fanciful, no matter what state the industry is in?

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Michael,

    It almost feels as though they are clueless to the problems and perceptions of their own company.

    When I see ads like this, I often wonder what the conversation was between the agency and the client. And what did the creative brief ask/ask for?

    If United Airlines gave you $250K, how would you spend it?

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Jimmy,

    Considering the current state of United (and all the airlines) how would you have approached a new TV campaign for them?

    I agree with you — creative for creative sake is great for the agency but of little benefit to the business.

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Eamon –

    Thank you for including my blog in that impressive list. I plan on sharing the entire list with Drew’s Marketing Minute readers this weekend!

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Dave,

    Well, there’s something to that. We, the consumers, keep pushing for lower prices and demand better service.

    When the airlines do raise their prices, consumers go nuts. In some ways, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    I wonder how many consumers feel the way that you do, versus….I bought a ticket. Getting me and my luggage there is part of the deal?

    Drew

  • Dave

    Raising fares due to increased salaries or fuel costs doesn’t tell me that it’s going to be less unpleasant when I fly, it tells me it’s the same miserable trip but it costs more this time. Raising fares and letting customers know that this was done to make you not hate air travel and improving X, Y, and Z gets you a bit more wiggle room with your customers.

  • Drew McLellan

    Dave,

    It seems as though what most people would have preferred is a spot that went head on with the challenges of flying and talked about how United is addressing those issues.

    I suspect we didn’t see that kind of spot because United (and the other airlines) don’t know what to do about them!

    Drew

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