Air travel study broke Burnett's hold on United

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United Airlines' decision to dismiss longtime ad agency Leo Burnett Co. earlier this month stemmed from its belief the Chicago agency was "not totally in synch" with the findings of a major study of air travelers the carrier commissioned earlier this year.

Offering a glimpse into the just-completed review, Director of Advertising and Promotion Mike Howe told Advertising Age the airline's top priority was locating agencies that would best understand and interpret the findings of the study, conducted with the Cambridge Group.

When it first discussed the results with Burnett executives, "they were not totally in synch with what we did with Cambridge and not as competitive as we'd like for our needs," he said last week.


Fallon McElligott "came closest to that insight, and we also felt Young & Rubicam was closest to where Fallon was," Mr. Howe said. The Minneapolis and New York-based agencies, respectively, were awarded the $120 million account in a split decision.

Another contender, TBWA Chiat/Day, New York, eliminated itself because it was unwilling to share the account with Fallon.

Fallon is to handle North America and Y&R international and all media buying.

Fallon executives have told associates they still hope to eventually win the entire account. Despite lacking a global presence, Fallon had presented a plan to United for managing far-flung ad efforts using sophisticated technologies.

The plan involved an alliance with Japanese agency Dentsu, which turned out to be a stumbling block. Though Dentsu is assisting Fallon McElligott Berlin on an assignment from Coca-Cola Co. in Japan, Y&R is Dentsu's partner in much of Asia and discouraged it from helping Fallon in the United pitch, said a Y&R insider.


"We wish we had it all, but this is a $70 million piece of United and we're extremely happy to have it," said Fallon Chairman Pat Fallon. "We've [shared accounts] with McDonald's and Ameritech, and we hope we can do this. We're not going to be destructive."

The first joint meeting is scheduled for Minneapolis in a few weeks. New U.S. creative is expected by next February.

United will embark on a five-year "customer satisfaction philosophy," part of more than $375 million in capital improvements.

There are plans of "mass customization" for different consumer segments, including the "global traveler," "road warrior" and "price-driven occasionals."

The airline is having a solid year; it reported record earnings last week.

"Things are going very well but not as well as we'd like, and we're doing what we can to improve," Mr. Howe said. "Flying is almost at a commodity level; there's no differentiation."


Group Director Ben Kline will run the United account for Fallon. He formerly handled Prudential Insurance Co. of America, which Fallon resigned two months ago. Though Fallon has a small Chicago office to serve Ameritech Corp., it expects to run the United account from Minneapolis.

Y&R Exec VP-Group Managing Director Linda Srere will run the United account for that shop's New York office. Y&R offices in Chicago and around the world also will be involved.

Though United does not plan to bring back Burnett's "Friendly Skies" tagline, the theme may live on in some manner. Fallon has a history of preserving a former campaign's equity while still taking ads in a new direction.

" `Friendly Skies' and Gershwin's `Rhapsody in Blue' will always be a part of United's culture," Mr. Howe said.

Copyright October 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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