United Airlines has launched a new ad campaign aimed at Southwest Airlines called “The Southwest Courte-C Call.” Quite frankly, I find the campaign curiously disingenuous and in poor taste.
Southwest Courte-C Call Ad Campaign From United Airlines
The ad, done in partnership with global creative agency 72andSunny, seeks to poke fun at open seating on Southwest Airlines. United has created a website called NotGroupC.com where Southwest flyers can register to receive a call 24 hours before their flight from United reminding them to check in (to avoid Group C) and suggesting they try United Airlines next time for a complimentary seat assignment. Here’s the audio recording:
The website compares United and Southwest in a “cheeky” way:
As a frequent United flyer and occasional Southwest flyer who will always choose United over Southwest, I find the ad in poor taste. To be clear, I am not offended by it…but I think the ad will not be convincing to any regular flyer and even if it prompts infrequent flyers to pop over to united.com to look, they will discover a number of issues:
- United sells “Basic Economy” seats that do not permit changes, carry-on items, and do not include a seat assignment unless you want to pay up in advance
- Even passengers who do not book basic economy tickets often have to pay for a “preferred” seat toward the front of the economy class cabin (and here we are not even talking about EconomyPlus) or take a middle seat in the rear
- Southwest continues to offer two free checked bags plus a carry-on plus a personal item on all fares while United is the only U.S. legacy carrier to prohibit full-size carry-on bags on basic economy fares
In other words, this cutesy ad actually reflects poorly on United…which is a sad byproduct of an ad campaign that I cannot imagine was cheap.
As a general rule, I would steer clear of talking about my competition in an ad. My favorite Untied ads are not poking fun at another carrier, but heralding the aspirational nature of travel:
And let me be clear that United has so much to tout. Its worldwide route network is second to no U.S. carrier. Furthermore, the carrier has made tremendous strides on its internet onboard (it is routinely fast and reliable these days… without exception in my experience). Finally, it does offer a premium product, unlike Southwest.
That makes attacking Southwest over open seating seem so strange to me.
United’s new ad campaign misses the mark (much more so than its prior campaign attacking Southwest in Denver did). It just seems so odd to me and I’m usually a sucker for airline ads. For inspiration, United should look to the ads above.
Basically what Ben said yesterday. I’m just guessing that United had the thought of ‘all attention is good attention’ for this campaign.
Nothing wrong with drawing attention to one of the stupidest things in travel that your competition does. Southwest is successful so there are many who are ok with their crazy boarding process but there are also plenty who don’t like it or don’t know about it as an occasional traveler.
If it gets some of SW’s casual customers to check out United, it’s worth the shot. UA isn’t targeting the readers here with this campaign, we already made our mind up about SW, one way or the other.
Southwest used to run ads poking fun at the other airlines for using small regional jets. I don’t recall if they explicitly used the names of the airlines but it’s not like United is completely breaking precedent with this campaign. But it would be a better selling point if they didn’t have basic economy
I don’t see why or how this is poor taste. You must have a bit young to remember the days when SW poked at their competitors left and right. So now that UA is poking fun, it’s poor taste? Oh please…..
I did not say attacking your competition is off-limits. When done right, it can be a beautiful thing. Here, it simply does not resonate with me when UA sells Basic Economy tickets on many of these routes. I find it in poor taste, because I think this ad actually makes Southwest look good…which is not what a UNITED ad should be doing…
The ad campaign reminds me of why I always hate myself when I fly Southwest, and will spend more to stay on UA where I’m a 1K/MM, even if SW is cheaper/more convenient. Needing to check-in early is something I always forget, and the prepaid A zone access (whatever that’s called) is never available when I book, so I wind up in a center seat in the back.
To each their own, but this resonates with me, but then again, I’ve never booked Basic Economy, so there’s nothing disingenuous about the campaign to me.
Guys in the comments section, stop being reasonable. Like in 80% of the blog posts in this site, we’re supposed to be outraged. Here, I’ll pitch in- Shame on you United!
There’s no “outrage” over this ad.
I think it’s a good concept, but they failed to put their most convincing points on the website. The last page that says United has no change fees, lie flat seats, and airport lounges, that is all you could put in there?
The thing the sets United apart the most from anyone else is their global route network. How is that not even mentioned?
United flies direct to Hawaii from all three markets this campaign will launch in (Chicago, Denver, Houston) while Southwest does not and cannot, why not mention that?
Also, for the lie flat seats part, at the bottom it says only available on select long haul international flights. No, it is available on ALL long haul international flights, and select domestic flights. It is pretty easy to find lie flat seats on domestic hub to hub routes, United has way more than AA and DL. Don’t sell yourself short in your own advertising.
As you and other bloggers note, this ad is misplaced. It ends up emphasizing that on Southwest, a passenger can have virtually the best seat on the plane without paying anything extra. Moreover, the same Southwest passenger can bring a carry-on bag for free, plus two checked bags. Try doing any of that on a UA basic economy ticket. Not gonna happen. Thanks for indirectly highlighting your competitive disadvantage UA!
I feel like WN’s core passenger base isn’t exactly known for being the people who really care about facts, or “the truth.” Unless it’s a social network, I suppose.
Being based in Nashville, a decent amount of my domestic travel is Southwest, whereas international is often United– so I’m familiar enough with both products.
I guess the idea is to try to get some uneducated travellers to try the United economy product? The problem in my mind is that for those uneducated about air travel, southwest is a much simpler product to understand.
One of those simplicities is “no change fees”, which actually means there are no change fees. On United “no change fees” means you won’t have to pay their change fees if you meet a certain set of conditions.
I do love it when United and Southwest compete directly on the same route (BNA-DEN for example) because I generally can get a good deal on United’s premium cabin service on those routes.
which conditions require you to pay a change fee on United? you have to pay the fare difference (or get a fare credit), but isn’t that the same on Southwest?
Basic Economy fares require a change fee to modify.
Once upon a time, I was Southwest A-List Preferred. For familial reasons (as in my remaining family lives within five miles of MDW, which is where I grew up), I flew Southwest a lot. Then I finally realized that Southwest was a rather scuzzy experience when it came to flying. The boarding practices (like falling into B group despite being A-List Preferred), the general behavior of the customers (who didn’t realize that they were on a plane), the general decline of Southwest’s services…it drove me to realize that the only reason I was hanging around was the free wi-fi on board for A-List Preferreds.
So I came to realize that I was only twenty minutes from ORD and a choice of preferred carriers. I chose United, Chicago’s hometown airline for the born-and-bred Chicagoan that I am. I do not regret doing so. I am 1K now, I already made 1K for next year, I used my excess miles to buy United Club membership, and I am happy sitting in the club with free drinks and nibbles, then going to the gate and boarding with pre-boarders. I love getting upgraded to domestic F like on my flight to and from BOI last week. And the FAs are uniformly great on mainline (we won’t talk about Air Whiskey and their prison wardens, and they’re on their way out of UA service anyway). Oh, and one final thing: I have my cell service with T-Mobile, so now my wi-fi is free on most of the flights I’m on. Goodbye, last advantage Southwest had.
I did take one last trip on Southwest. I did it just to say that I flew WN out of ORD. The return flight got cancelled.
So I’m in favor of this ad. If anyone like me out there is still hanging on to Southwest, make the move. Jordan won’t do anything to stop the decline, and Kirby has pulled UA out of its tailspin under Munoz and Smisek. Good work, UA.
This ad just underscores one of my frustrations with United: while they may run laps around Southwest when it comes to transcontinental or international routes, United also leaves me with no choice but to fly Southwest on shorter routes. Just last night a I purchased a BUR-SMF one-way on Southwest. Trying to do that on United (even out of LAX!) would have been 3x-5x the price … which maybe is not that unfair because it would take 3x-5x the amount of time on most itineraries with far less convenient times.
So, yeah, I may have to set a timer and fly an inferior airline on intra-California flights, but it’s not exactly like United is giving me a choice in the matter. Unfortunately, sometimes Southwest is just the better option … and United doesn’t even attempt to compete.
But maybe this rant is only tangentially related to the original post … 😉
In my opinion the seat and leg space is the best reason to fly Southwest.
Economy seating on traditional airlines is claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Most people are not frequent flyers and end up in economy.
People get hung up on assigned seats, it is different, but getting to your assigned seat and finding a seat mate you’d rather not sit by is not a great experience.
For me SW and United are for different things.
I fly SoCal-NoCal 3-4 times a month. 45 mins wheels up to down. Southwest has a flight each way every 90 minutes. Meeting running late? Hop on the next one, no change fee. Finish the day early? Hop on the previous one, no change fee. It’s a day-trip so all I am carrying is a computer in a backpack. This is the same service they provide Houston-Dallas and many other commuter twin cities for business people. They fixed the A-List thing if you get your ticket late (you board right before the Bs, even if you have a C ticket), so once you hit status you won’t get a middle seat as long as you are there when they start boarding.
So I consider SW a commuter airline, equivalent to taking a shuttle bus or metro to work, where you are not expecting high comfort. Now would I fly SW for more than two hours? No….for shuttle flights I can put up with their cramped seats (no matter where you sit SW seems small), no food service, and now they don’t have gin! (G&T my personal favorite). For longer flights I’ll get my automatic Econ Plus seat on United since I am permanent gold.
To the comment above about Hawaii – Southwest flies direct to Hawaii from several California cities. I would not be thrilled going over the Pacific for 5 hours in a SW 737, but may bite the bullet when I get two more free seats on mileage.