United Airlines released a new ad campaign today that offers heavy doses of Gerwshin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and brings back the classic “Fly the Friendly Skies” slogan that has been shelved since 1996. In a series of four made-for-TV ads, United returns to its aspirational roots, offering a welcome change from the drab ads embracing hard product that the Continental side of the airline had embraced since the merger. But the disconnect between ad and reality is readily apparent to every frequent flyer on United. Even as the airline tries to redefine the term friendly, United is left with a credibility gap that must be addressed in order for these ads to be effective.
Take a look at the ads–
Video #1 – Great Big World Friendly
This is my favorite of the four ads because the message is most succinct–wherever you are in the world, United is there for you. And in a sense, that is true–United flies to six continents and boasts an enviable route network to most major world cities. I can picture my own taxi rides to airports around the world to catch United flights and enjoyed the attention to detail in this aspirational ad.
Video #2 – Flyer Friendly
I liked this ad, but it was strange to see FAs walking down the aisles with trays of champagne in crystal stemware when United does not serve champagne in economy class and certainly does not use such glassware. Furthermore, who is going to take a drink when the orchestra is in the middle of a performance? This ad, though nicely done, highlights the disconnect from reality between this ad campaign and the reality of flying on United. More on that below.
Video #3 – Built Around You Friendly
This ad nicely highlights the improved economy class product on United–with Economy Plus, power ports and personal monitors. It also highlights the flat-bed seats United offers that I find quite comfortable and certainly illustrates an advantage of United over competitors like Asiana and Lufthansa that still lack horizontal lie-flat business class seats across much of its longhaul fleet.
Video #4 – wifi Friendly
This one made me chuckle because United is so far behind the competition when it comes to internet that to brand it as “wifi friendly” is laughable. But that will change and United cannot be faulted for starting the ad campaign a bit early. Still, it has been ages since I have been on a United flight equipped with wifi. The forecast does not look any different for my flights tomorrow.
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United has carefully re-defined the term friendly from and adjective meaning kind and pleasant to one meaning favorably disposed, as in United is a pet-friendly airline. Consequently, “Come fly the friendly skies” does not suggest pleasantry as much as it suggests comfort. That is clever, but also sad. It is clever in that it takes a classic and beloved slogan and retools it to fit the reality of airline travel in 2013, but I think most will miss this subtle change of meaning. What you will not find in the ads is much about United being friendly, in the kind and pleasant sense. That is unfortunate, because as each U.S. legacy carrier moves in the direction of lie-flat seats, wifi, enhanced IFE, and more legroom in economy, the only things that will distinguish carriers is price, loyalty program, or service–and the commercials ignore those three areas.
I shared of my mediocre flight on United last week to Newark and my return flight was no better, with few smiles, no personalized service, and no attention to detail. That must change or these ads will mean nothing, no matter what emphasis on friendly United tires to promote.
Make no mistake, these are good ads–and it is also nice to hear Matt Damon continuing to do voiceovers–but they fall on hollow ears right now for most who fly United regularly. I enjoyed them and I know others will too, but we also laugh, not due to the humor of the ads but due to the disconnect between ad and reality.
What are your thoughts on the new ad? Which is your favorite?
I am curious to see if this actually does anything to improve the image that UA has created since the merger. If my irrops experience from this week is any indication, nothing has changed, though I’ll reserve judgement until my next UA trip.
Definitely rolled my eyes at the wifi commercial.. I’ve yet to fly a UA bird with wifi, while every AA flight I have taken this year has had wifi.
While I believe the campaign is a good start (and may even lift morale within the staff), it will backfire if they do not improve service levels (catering, united clubs, customer service), resolving operational issues, and stop nickel and diming everyone on everything from cheaper quality seats to offering premier access to everyone under the sun (which causes a jam when we actually NEED premier access during peak times). Also, UA has invested a lot in it’s hard-product since the merger (as they point out in the PR) but PMUA was neglected so long that it’s just getting on-par with DL.
I like the first ad. It vaguely reminds me of one of the first “Rhapsody in Blue” commercials that came out when I was a kid, sometime in the mid-80s. I don’t recall the details of the ad, but it highlighted all of the destinations in Asia that UA served at the time. The thing I remember was a child in Thailand (I think) dressed in a Buddhist monk outfit and playing a flute.
The problem I see with this ad campaign, as with the prior iterations of the “Rhapsody in Blue” theme over the past 10 years or so, is that it presents something of a false dichotomy of the experience the average traveler will see on United. I’m paraphrasing what Cranky Flier said a few years ago, but the problem here is that the ads suggest something of a premium flying experience. If you’re flying in First or Business, or a high-level elite that the airline still seems to treat fairly well, then that might be true. But when you’re a non-elite, stuck in a middle seat at the back of Economy Minus after SHARES has booted you out of the window in Economy Plus that you paid extra for, and the surly gate agent tells you nothing can be done AND that you’re going to have to gate check your carry-on, you end up feeling a bit cheated. Ad #2 has the biggest risk of backfiring in that regard.
All UAL promotions display such a gap between their hype and what is true. I am a 1K and the most dismal thing about United is their customer service. Until their culture changes substantially and their employees (inflight and ground) begin to act like they “enjoy” being with their customers – everything else is not true In fact, many might argue that there is little “truth in their advertising”.
WiFi? A joke. I flew on two 747’s in the past two months with WiFi and it only worked for the UAL website. The f/a in Global First said “United’s wifi doesn’t work but they are too embarassed to say so because they put so much money into it.” And she said “even if they take your cc number to use the wifi – the charge won’t go through.” It didn’t! If you get a Continental route with former CO employees – your chance of getting more personable and less grouchy f/a`s improves.
I will say that I do think their frequent flyer program is the best – and that is why they have my business
A blast from the not so distant past. What really went wrong with United’s branding? Check out the retro video at the bottom of the article. It provides a little insight as to what was really going on. http://www.shinyjetsyndrome.com/itwasglenn.html