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Ponder Harrison, a former Delta Air Lines manager, knew just how tough it would be to start a new carrier in today's tough travel economy. To succeed would mean creating instant brand awareness.

That's exactly what Mr. Harrison, VP-sales and marketing at ValuJet Airlines, achieved-almost overnight-through a heavy outdoor, print and eventually radio ad campaign.

The no-frills, low-fare carrier last October began service out of its Atlanta headquarters to three Florida cities.

By the end of May, ValuJet had expanded to 15 cities mainly in the Southeast.

More remarkable, the airline showed a first quarter profit of $3.3 million on revenue of $18.6 million-an accomplishment in an industry beset by losses.

ValuJet was positioned as a dependable, affordable and fun alternative to Delta, also based in Atlanta.

"We had properly calculated the mindset of the Southeast's traveling public," Mr. Harrison says. "That is that people are much more value-conscious.

"We had a large airline in this area that since Eastern Airlines'demise had monopolized travel and kept fares high. We came in and dropped fares by as much as 70% in many markets."

Instead of hiring an ad agency, Mr. Harrison, 32, helped put together an in-house team of Mike Kerley, copywriter, and Mike Phillips, creative director.

The ad mix shifted to radio to showcase Captain Valu, a tongue-in-cheek superhero who fights high fares. Spending could top $4 million this year.

The airline prides itself on listening to its customers. It even asked Atlanta residents where they'd like to fly next for $39. They said Savannah, Ga., and service there began Feb. 17.

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