It was an appeal to high-margin business travelers, offering a comfortable flight while hopping to meetings. And it was an attempt to motivate Continental employees, giving them a slogan to apply on the job.
A year and a half later, as the airline gets set to debut new ads this week, company officials said they're pleased with the results. Continental's traffic and profits continue at robust levels. And, perhaps just as importantly, they say employees have embraced the campaign.
FOCUS ON EMPLOYEES
"At the end of the day our delivery is our employees," said Richard Metzner, Continental's VP-marketing programs.
"All the airlines fly essentially the same kind of airplanes. Ultimately, the contact people have with us is the airline," he said.
On Sept. 1, Continental launches new spot TV, print, radio and out-of-home work in its three principal markets: New York, Cleveland and Houston.
Spending wasn't disclosed; the marketer spent $30 million last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York, handles.
Continental's satisfaction with its campaign is somewhat unusual these days among the major carriers. Delta has scrapped its "On top of the world" effort from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, and launched a review for its $100 million global account. And the industry and ad community are abuzz that United Airlines is disappointed with its "United is Rising" effort from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, and may launch a review.
Breaking from traditional airline advertising of soaring-plane shots or children running into grandma's arms, the 18-month-old Continental campaign is primarily text-based. All TV and print ads employ a blue background with the airline's globe logo and several lines of words delivering a service message, often tongue-in-cheek.
The latest ads continue the play on words. Typical of the "Work Hard. Fly Right" campaign's attention-grabbing humor, new TV work features a spot saying Leif Ericsson, Columbus and the Mayflower all became legends for their work, but "we cross the Atlantic 140 times a week [and] you don't see us clamoring for attention."
Recent outdoor ads in New York designed to show the scope of where Continental flies used phrases such as "Little Italy to Big Italy," and "Yo to Aloha."
EFFORT IN HUB CITIES
Continental's campaign, which is employed globally, in the U.S. is focused primarily on the airline's three hub markets -- New York, Cleveland and Houston -- where last year more than 41% of its traffic originated, according to figures provided by S&P Equity Group.
The new TV work in New York and Cleveland also ties in with the airline's sponsorship of the local Yankees and Indians baseball teams. Additionally, the company is the official airline sponsor of the Houston Astros, giving it three teams likely to attract attention deep into the fall.
Rosalind Calvin, Continental's managing director of advertising, described the campaign as "Gordon-speak" after airline President and CEO Gordon Bethune, the folksy, straight-talking executive often credited with leading the airline out of bankruptcy.
"He's very good at praising his people," said Goldman Sachs analyst Glenn Engel of Mr. Bethune. "He realizes a pat on the back motivates people as much as a paycheck, and his advertising is a pat on the back to his people."
To Adam Pilarski, senior VP at airline consulting firm Avitas, the campaign has a far greater appeal to Continental insiders than to consumers, who he says are rarely moved by airline advertising as much as by flight prices and schedules.
Continental, the nation's fifth-largest carrier, continues to make a strong recovery from the financial doldrums it faced earlier this decade. Last year, its traffic grew five times the industry average of 2.2%, according to PaineWebber. Yet, among the country's top five carriers, Continental spends the least on advertising, opting not to indulge in expensive network TV.
And the airline benefits from the "best labor relations outside of Southwest" in the industry, according to Goldman Sachs' Mr. Engel.
Mr. Metzner cited several examples of employee appreciation of the campaign: Airline employees still wear 'Work Hard. Fly Right" pins they received for the March 1998 campaign launch; employees have taken to designing posters that mirror the campaign with slogans they write to inspire one another; and the last two company annual reports have included the tagline on the cover.
Though top Continental executives now praise the campaign, the initial move away from conventional advertising was met with some opposition, Ms. Calvin said.
"It has been a little bit challenging internally to keep visuals out of this campaign," she said. "There are a lot of people who are comfortable with the fact that when you're going to encourage people to go to Cancun, you have to show them a picture of a pretty beach. We intentionally have tried to avoid that. There were some skeptics in the beginning, but I no longer get calls from