Let’s first acknowledge that merging two airline operations is a monumental task, with hundreds of thousands of daily transactions and a million moving parts to manage. Like it or not, though, a merger like the one between United and Continental, announced a year ago and made “official” in October, comes with a trillion decisions to make.
Whose headquarters? Whose baggage policy? Whose boarding procedures? Every resolution a chance to p&ss off half of its merged customer base.
Somehow, though, United has managed to disappoint all sides with its marketing and branding decisions. From declaring that the “new” airline will be known as United, to its logo combining the United name with the unnamed Continental logo.
And while all those decisions were being made, United announced it would be looking for a new ad agency.
We’ve seen this movie before. The winning agency will have developed a new “brand” – essence, logo, positioning, and the 400th United Airlines tagline since 1990. And then United will have to spend millions to undo every branding decision it has made in the past year. Repainting the outside of a big plane is very ‘spensive, Lucy.
But I’m more interested in knowing why an agency – any agency – would sign up for this “opportunity.” Here are a few points to ponder:
- The airlines are losing money again due to high fuel costs, which will make marketing funds hard to come by this Fall
- United Continental, with declining occupancy stats already, will have to reduce capacity big time this Fall – it’s hard to launch a “new brand” when you’re taking routes away from flyers
- Per the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Continental perennially ranks near the top, as #3
- Per ACSI, United ranks dead last. Perennially.
This one doesn't need an ad agency, it needs a customer experience consultancy.
In any case, here are the only good things from this merger so far:
- The world’s ugliest logo ever, the United “tulip,” is gone
- United announced it will keep playing its air traffic control in-flight audio