VALUJET REINVENTS ITSELF AS AIRTRAN IN NEW AD FLIGHTS: 'NEGATIVE EQUITY' OF OLD NAME TRIGGERS BIG CRAMER-KRASSELT INTRO

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Already back in the air, ValuJet goes back on the air Oct. 8 with a spot campaign briefly announcing its name change to AirTran and designed to put the fatal Florida crash of May 1996 behind it.

Ads for the $7.5 million multimedia fall campaign will explain the airline's relaunch as AirTran. Spots will mention ValuJet for a month.

The carrier's 1998 budget is expected to increase, perhaps to about $20 million, said Tad Hutcheson, director of sales and marketing. Print will appear in 24 markets, with TV and radio in six cities. All ads are crafted to tout AirTran's expanded services, such as the addition of business class, while setting it apart from low-fare rivals.

TV spots will show a plane getting ready for takeoff. Unidentified until the end, the new AirTran logo then appears.

APPROVAL EXPECTED IN '98

Atlanta-based ValuJet is still officially in the process of merging with Orlando carrier AirTran Airways, and governmental approval is expected early next year. Meanwhile, ValuJet licensed the AirTran name in September and began code-sharing on flights for unified reservations.

"Our challenge was to develop a position and story that conveyed the fact that it is virtually a new airline but one with major assets," said Peter Krivkovich, president of Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago.

The campaign is the first from new ValuJet agency Cramer-Krasselt, which won the business without a review in July from Hughes Advertising, Atlanta.

NOT JUST NEW PAINT

"It's not just a new coat of paint-it's new management, new livery and new services," Mr. Hutcheson said of AirTran's restaging. He explained that there had been a "huge debate" over how to handle the name change in the ads. "We wondered, 'Do we show just the new name?' We decided that consumers aren't dumb, let's be upfront."

There was debate about taking the AirTran name or creating a new one for the combined carrier.

"In terms of brand equity of the old [ValuJet] name, there was none-it was negative equity," Mr. Hutcheson said.

Industry consultants were unimpressed by the name but applauded the decision to change.

"Every start-up was hurt as a result of the accident and everyone remembers it," said Doug Kelly, VP-aviation consulting at Avitas. "It was a smart move to

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