Rivalry rising on United account

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United Airlines the week of May 15 unveils its first overseas brand push since the fallen "Rising" campaign, with a $40 million to $50 million TV and print effort from Y&R Advertising that could be viewed as an audition for the consolidated account. The effort marks Y&R's first campaign distinct from domestic United work, handled by Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis.

The demise of "Rising" has provoked persistent rumors that United would place the domestic account into review.

'OUR FIRST CHANCE'

"It was really our first chance to get out there and do something different than what Fallon was doing," said Jim Ferguson, president-chief creative officer of Y&R, New York. "Let's face it," he also said.."We're all in this to get in each other's pants a little bit."

By the same token, Fallon is surely eyeing a consolidation of the account after becoming part of the global Publicis network earlier this year.

John Kiker, United's VP-worldwide communications, said the domestic and international businesses will remain where they are, at least in the near term. He said the latest Fallon campaign tested well and United is satisfied with it. Industry executives familiar with the situation said Fallon is secure. A Fallon spokeswoman said the agency feels it has a strong hold on the account.

Separately, Mr. Kiker said the WPP purchase of Y&R isn't expected to impact Y&R's United business. Y&R also handles the account for the Star Alliance, a consortium of airlines led by United and Lufthansa German Airlines. Star launched a $60 million global campaign last month that used TV for the first time.

WORLDWIDE Y&R INPUT

Y&R's new campaign will run in 26 markets, concentrating in London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The effort was developed with input from Y&R's offices worldwide, but created principally by its New York and Miami units.

The print version of the overseas campaign offers a recognizable motif--a passport stamp--in addition to United's famed U-shaped logo, known internally at the airline as "the tulip."

One print ad shows a man and a woman relaxing on an idyllic beach. The passport stamps offer: "Work isn't paradise. But it can get you there." The copy then says the airline's frequent flier program--Mileage Plus--lets a business traveler earn miles at work that can be used for play.

The TV aspect of the campaign, which continues Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as theme music and echoes the dignified tonality and feel of past ads, also argues that grueling business travel can have at least one reward: the Mileage Plus program. A spot opens with a man "caught in the monotony of `Here I am in another taxi cab,'|" said Y&R Senior Partner Mary Ellen Kenny, but ends with him and a woman pleasantly floating in a boat during a Thailand vacation.

A second TV spot, which begins on a bike along a dirt trail in Asia and ends with a panorama of the New York skyline, has a different goal: to position the airline, which flies to 210 U.S. destinations, as the most seamless route to all parts of the U.S.

GROWTH OPPORTUNITY

United generates some 40% of its revenues from overseas travel. And with the domestic market crowded, the airline views overseas travel as a major growth frontier.

"Once you get as big as United you've got to look overseas for growth," said Stephen Klein, an analyst with S&P Equity Group.

United's first post-"Rising" domestic effort from Fallon broke in January and eschewed a tagline, opting instead to play off the carrier's name with phrases such as "Be United" and "Feel United." Its international counterpart from Y&R offers the tag: "Life is a journey. Travel it well."

Fallon's "Rising" theme, used both domestically and internationally, attempted to address problems with air travel, and show how United was working to ease them. It was dropped last fall after it failed to resonate with employees and some customers didn't understand it.

Forgoing a tagline in the U.S. is possible because of the airline's market-leading position. But overseas, its name recognition is considerably less.

"We're in a different place domestically than we are internationally," Mr. Kiker said. "Our ads have to work a lot harder."

Contributing: Hillary Chura

Copyright May 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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