AMERICA WEST ASPIRES TO REACH AIRLINES' TOP TIER: DELAYED $15 MIL BRANDING EFFORT EVADES DISCOUNTING, SOUTHWEST

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With its labor conflicts resolved, America West next week takes flight with a new branding campaign.

The advertising, tagged "Every flight counts," is a departure from its previous discount positioning and that of its primary competitor in the Phoenix and Las Vegas markets, Southwest Airlines.

"One of our objectives was to raise America West's position in our customers' minds among the major tier of airlines," said Mike Smith, senior VP-marketing and sales. "We wanted to reintroduce ourselves and what better way than to have our employees involved."

The effort, estimated in the $10 million to $15 million range, uses b&w spots in which a different airline employee speaks about his or her job. Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, is the agency. The shop won the account in late 1997, but this is the first major branding work they've done for the airline, which has been plagued by labor issues.

'THE GUY IN COACH'

The campaign is targeted to business travelers taking 10 to 20 trips a year-"the guy in coach" whose company and accumulation of frequent-flier miles doesn't allow for first-class or even business-class seating, said Troy Tarwater, management supervisor on the account at Riney.

The ads also are meant to inspire employees.

The advertising is "aspirational for our employees," he said. "It's a clean and clear message to them that every flight counts every day."

PASSENGER MEMOS

In one spot, a flight attendant talks about the memos written and read by passengers on her flight, and how the passenger in 4C took a well-deserved nap. In another, a baggage handler says he knows the people looking out the window are watching their bag.

The musical score is reminiscent of that used in the early advertising the agency did for Saturn Corp.

The campaign was in the works before the airline averted a possible flight-attendant strike last month by reaching a five-year collective bargaining agreement.

The airline, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1991, recently reported record first-quarter earnings and said losses from the labor turmoil were offset by gains made during the pilot sickout at American Airlines.

America West has spent the past two years expanding service to new markets, such as Cleveland and Detroit. Now, the airline is shifting its focus to increasing the number of flights to existing markets.

It has more than 300 daily flights in and out of its Phoenix hub and expects to boost that by 30% by 2001, Mr. Smith said. Additional flights have been added to Boston and Newark from there.

One of America West's major advantages, according to Mr. Smith, is that it operates hubs in two of America's fastest-growing cities: Phoenix and Las Vegas.

TRAFFIC INCREASE EXPECTED

Analysts remain mildly bullish on the airline, which they expect to increase its traffic by 8% to 10% this year.

Though America West is the ninth-largest U.S. airline, with about a 3% market share, S&P Equity Group analyst Stephen Klein said it deserves credit for solid performances in its core markets. America West is the top carrier to Phoenix, ahead of Southwest, and trails leader Southwest in Las Vegas.

"They're doing well [in] their home turf," he said. "If they weren't doing well there, they'd probably be heading to extinction. Airlines have to have someplace with some kind of dominance," Mr. Klein said.

The TV spots will run in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio, with a radio effort in Los Angeles and other cities, as well as print and airport poster displays.

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