First, let us admit we got this one wrong. We thought back in late 2011 that McGarry Bowen (or mcgarrybowen as the agency likes to be titled) would take a year to overhaul what was then a mixed bag of United and Continental branding, and launch a new “united” brand.
Instead it took two years to replicate United’s beyond famous, 20-years-duration tagline and take Rhapsody In Blue to new heights, if you will.
Critics were quick to call it a lazy move, and then jump on the obvious – all that “friendliness” takes place in the front of the plane. Even the WiFi available in coach has an elitist appeal, coming with a surcharge.
We say, who cares? It’s called targeting, and the new campaign targets the United fliers who bring in 80% of its profits.
There are two much more important things no one seems to notice.
Continental = Waldo
Except for the plane’s tail and the current brand logo, the merged Continental has been relegated to the proverbial overhead bin. (The logo will be an easy fix – in a few months, just Photoshop out the Continental “globe.” The tail painting, however, will prove to have been an expensive, and wrong, interim decision back in early 2011.)
This shows what happens to a good business that has a weak brand. Continental was a well-run airline, treasured by its loyal fliers. But its limited national scope and “workaday” image had no chance of being an equal with the United brand. Kudos to the McGarry guy or gal who convinced United Continental management to do it now.
To its credit, though, Continental’s gravestone will state “At least we got rid of that ugly United tulip logo thingy.”
Friendly Things, Not Friendly People
The user-friendly/flyer-friendly emphasis in the new United brand campaign is on leg room, in-seat video technology, lie-flat beds, etc. – material comforts. Except for two or three token and unashamedly sexist seconds of big-boobed models, er, flight attendants, walking up the aisle with pillows and champagne flutes, there is zero emphasis on friendly people.
Again, kudos to mcgarrybowen. The agency nailed the most prevalent cultural trends, making them seem like something to celebrate rather than bemoan.
- We are infatuated with “things,” especially if they are digital, and double especially if they present themselves on a small screen.
- We want more physical separation from those around us.
- We would rather – f*ck, we would pay for the privilege to – be connected digitally to the world versus looking out the window at nature or conversing with the person in the next seat.
And so, just like Continental, the discussion of what was once known as “customer service” has been swept under the carpet. Rightly so.