The launch of Delta Air Lines' new $100 million global campaign March 11 raises the question of whether wide-reaching image advertising soon will go the way of the in-flight meal.
The first Delta brand work from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, breaks from the tradition of airline ads that glorify the journey, often via inspirational music. Instead, Delta all but admits air travel is fraught with frustrations and promises to address customer concerns.
"The old-fashioned airline brand advertising is dead at Delta," said Martin White, the airline's VP-consumer marketing.
The first TV spots feature an array of travelers, from a bargain-hunting backpacker to a well-dressed businessman, and ask, "How do you want to fly?" Fast-moving background music has a touch of techno, but is hardly catchy.
Print ads feature travelers with specific requests such as "anything but more lines" along with a solution. In that case, it's Delta's e-ticket program, which allows customers to go straight to the plane.
No tagline is used, though a luggage tag with assorted handwritten passenger desires serves as a recurring symbol.
Some industry observers, most notably Mr. White, felt Delta failed miserably with its "On top of the world" image effort from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. Those ads featured floating balloons and a robust chantlike song called "Adiemus."
"Adiemus" became a hit on the pop charts in Europe, but not in the boardrooms in Atlanta. Almost immediately after joining Delta from US Airways in late 1998, Mr. White decided the campaign was too "ethereal" and failed to define the airline to either employees or customers. In mid-1999, a review moved the account to Burnett.
Now, however, with airlines under fire for poor customer service, both executives said Delta needed to acknowledge passenger frustration.
Airlines have increasingly moved away from image campaigns. American Airlines put its "Something special in the air" campaign mostly on hiatus and recently launched a more practical "More room in coach" effort from Temerlin McClain, Irving, Texas, to trumpet its redesigned planes.
Northwest Airlines and Trans World Airlines have campaigns promoting offers that allow passengers to upgrade to first class if they buy a full-fare coach ticket.
UNITED HOLDS OUT
Perhaps the most prominent holdout is United, which broke an image campaign in January from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. United, however, plans to launch additional advertising around its Economy Plus product.
Whether image ads by themselves are ever useful is still in debate.
"Customers basically say that when you do that you're demonstrating you don't understand what's important to me," said Rich Stoffer, senior partner, N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York, which uses mainly destination and product-driven creative for Continental Airlines.
Copyright March 2000, Crain Communications Inc.