The mostly text TV commercial that broke late last week asks: "Shall we compare air travel to freedom? Shall we wax poetic about our far-off destinations? Shall we promise to bring people closer? Shall we shut up and get you there on time?"
The first line is a reference to Southwest Airlines' "Symbol of Freedom" campaign, from GSD&M, Austin, Texas.
"The objective of the campaign is to highlight other airlines' approach of overpromising and underdelivering," said Michael Grieco, group creative director at Continental's agency, N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York.
Print and outdoor ads -- the thrust of Continental's $25 million U.S. budget -- admit to such things as "We're only as good as our last flight" and "Other airlines promise you the stars, how about getting your luggage back?"
"We put things in more of a customer voice," said Richard Metzner, Continental VP-marketing programs. "There are not a lot of lofty ideals."
The campaign's tagline is "Work hard. Fly right."
Jim O'Donnell, chairman of Seabrook Marketing, said the "minimalist approach to claims -- avoiding hyperbole and speaking in plain terms -- will ring a lot truer to consumers."
Another plain-speaking campaign came to the industry last year, from United Airlines and agency Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis.
But observers have said the second phase of United's effort -- showing that the carrier makes good on its promises while others don't -- has been slow in coming.
Mr. Metzner said Continental's effort is not so much a "change" campaign as a greater emphasis of its newfound basic strengths.