Taking aim at Southwest

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Southwest is offering limited nonstop service to Denver-a fact rival United Airlines is touting in its advertising.

The UAL Corp. unit is running print ads in United's signature illustrated style that show a confused man with his hand on his chin pondering a signpost in which the arrows are all twisted. The text reads, "With Southwest, you are kinda, sorta free to move about a few places in the country nonstop"- a clear reference to Southwest's tagline, "You are now free to move about the country." Denver is a United hub.

The print ads, to be followed with radio, TV and online executions, were created by Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis.

"Southwest entered the Denver market, and we needed to let our customers know how we were different and better than Southwest," said United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski. "Our ads will point out the differentiators."

Southwest is offering 15 daily flights from Denver, compared to United's 400. Ms. Urbanski said future ads will note that, as well as the fact that there are seat assignments on United as opposed to what she called the "cattle call" offered by Southwest in which passengers line up and select their own seats.

Southwest did not return a call for comment. Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas, Southwest's longtime agency, said it had no plans for retaliatory ads.

This isn't the first time United has called out a competitor, and Ms. Urbanski said it won't be the last. "Things will change" in 2006, she said. "A lot of our advertising will be market- or city-specific."

In March 2005, the airline tweaked its biggest rival with a series of ads that poked fun at American Airlines for abandoning a push that promoted more legroom. One print ad showed an illustration of a man bent into a cube. The caption read, "Fly American, and you could kick yourself. Literally."

Another showed a man sitting in a seat with his legs straight up in the air. The caption on that one read, "Tired of flying American?" The chatter under each caption pointed out that American put seats back in its planes, while United continued to offer extra legroom in its premium economy class, Economy Plus.

Will the strategy of taking on a competitor directly work?

At least one person purporting to be from GSD&M doesn't think so. In an anonymous posting on FlyerTalk.com, a poster who identified himself as working at an ad agency that "does all the advertising for Southwest," said, "[Southwest] will win this advertising war. ...[Southwest] will be seen as the better, cheaper alternative-with some spunk. Let the war begin."%

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