McGarryBowen, Horizon Nab United Continental

Shops Will Be Tasked With Marketing Merged Airline to Consumers

By Published on .

A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

United Continental Holdings has awarded advertising duties on its $70 million to $100 million account to McGarryBowen and Horizon. The two agencies will handle creative, digital and media duties for the newly merged airline.

Dentsu-owned McGarryBowen -- which has been a monster on the new-business circuit scooping up accounts left and right -- triumphed with the help of indie media shop Horizon in the final round of a review that began in March. They faced off against two rival agency teams: Havas' Arnold Worldwide, which partnered with sibling MPG for media; and Omnicom's TBWA office in Los Angeles, which pitched with media sibling PHD.

"Selecting a new long-term agency partner with the depth, expertise and passion to help us advance the United brand is one of the most important marketing decisions we have made since closing the merger of United and Continental," Mark Bergsrud, senior VP-marketing at the airline, said in a statement. "We are excited to work with McGarryBowen to develop a marketing communications program that will enable us to tell the story of the new United."

The creative incumbents for United and Continental were independent Minneapolis-based Barrie D'Rozario Murphy and Publicis Groupe -owned Kaplan Thaler Group, respectively. Kaplan Thaler Group worked on Continental advertising for the past 13 years, and BDM, which worked on United for seven years, declined to participate in the review.

BDM also handled all media buying and planning. Publicis Groupe 's Starcom worked with United Airlines on a advisory basis for the past few years.

Agencies either didn't respond to request for comment or referred calls to the client. New York-based Bajkowski & Partners managed the integrated agency search. Sponsorship marketing, loyalty marketing, CRM and public relations were not part of the review.

Under the terms of the merger of United Airlines and Continental Airlines, which closed in October, the new airline is to be known as United, but will keep Continental's blue-globe logo. The new company's headquarters are in Chicago, with a large presence in the company's biggest hub, Houston.

United Continental in March unveiled the new United campaign, executed by Kaplan Thaler, New York, less than six months after forming United Continental Holdings. Later that month Ad Age reported that the company put the account into review, seeking one post-merger agency.

As it stands now, measured media spending for the combined airlines is conservative. United and Continental spent a total of $63.2 million in 2010, up from $48.7 million in 2009. However, unmeasured media is estimated to put the combined total marketing outlay closer to $100 million.

With this win, McGarryBowen's roster continues to grow. It has been on a new-business tear in the last few months, winning the Burger King account and the lead creative account for Sears within a week of each other. The agency has also picked up a substantial amount of Kraft brands since 2009, though it recently stopped working on one of Kraft's biggest investments in a decade, Mio.

~ ~ ~
Contributing: Rupal Parekh

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that Starcom was not a media agency of record for United; Barrie D'Rozario Murphy handled media buying and planning.

Most Popular