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Continental Airlines, in a bold move to take command of no-frills air travel, in June plans to highlight the humble peanut in a new corporate brand for its discount domestic operations.

The moniker likely will include, or play off, the peanut-the symbol of low fares, Advertising Age has learned. The exact name could not be determined.

"No decision has been made," said Art Kent, Continental VP-public affairs."Additional research is being done for ... the new brand name."

The carrier has tied its success to no-frills Peanuts Fares and Peanuts Flights.

The renamed operation would formalize what had been nicknamed CALite (AA, May 31, 1993), discount fares that began last fall.

Robert Ferguson, Continental CEO, earlier this month told a Houston gathering the airline will announce a new brand that it hopes will "convey the message of the product we are trying to deliver." He didn't disclose the name.

When Houston-based Continental expands its Peanuts Fares June 23, Billy Sinkbiel, a real Georgia peanut farmer who debuted in ads last fall, will again pitch peanuts in new TV spots from the Richards Group, Dallas. He's the likely suspect to promote the new name for discount domestic operations, on which Continental spends much of its $40 million ad budget.

Other airlines, it seems, also are going nuts over peanuts.

Besides Continental, Southwest Airlines, Midway Airlines, ValuJet Airlines and Kiwi International Air Lines are on the bandwagon in their own nutty fashion. Some are making light of peanuts.

Kiwi, a regional carrier based in Newark, N.J., where Continental has a major hub, is running ads themed "Why fly for peanuts ... when you can have it all for the same low price?" from Gianettino & Meredith, Short Hills. A print ad boasts Kiwi never serves peanuts and concludes: "So there's every reason to fly Kiwi. Unless, of course, you feel like a nut."

Midway earlier this month also took an anti-peanuts positioning with its $59 No-Peanuts Fares for summer travel. Print ads from Pedone & Partners, New York, in one week sold nearly one-third of the airline's summer seats.

ValuJet, Atlanta, relies on radio character Captain Valu to tout low fares and "no more peanuts" in a campaign created in-house with Boom/Whango.

But peanuts play a positive role in Dallas-based Southwest's ads from GSD&M, Austin, Texas. In one 15-second TV spot, peanuts are displayed on an airline tray while the announcer explains: "Because most of our flights are short, this is what our meals look like on Southwest Airlines. It's also what our fares look like."

Southwest has a stronger claim to the goobers, said Joyce Rogge, director of advertising and promotions. Since the early 1970s, it has never served meals, only peanuts.

Continental inherited the Captain Peanut logo, a flying peanut still used in print ads, from predecessor Texas International Airlines. Back in 1976, Texas International created Peanuts Fares just after the country had elected a peanut farmer-Jimmy Carter-president.

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