United hands $100 mil account to Fallon

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United Airlines has tapped Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, to handle its estimated $100 million-plus global account as the agency outdueled WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, in a 45-day shootout for the consolidation, the airline said. The move, which was first reported on AdAge.com, comes as United is perhaps close to a merger with US Airways, meaning one of Fallon's challenges will be to introduce the "New United." Fallon has handled the world's largest airline's domestic business since 1996, while Y&R had the international account.

"With two of the world's strongest ad agencies competing head-to-head forUnited's business, this was far from an easy process," Jerry Dow, United's director of worldwide marketing communications, said in a statement. "In the end, Fallon showed United that the agency best understood the airline's brand vision, andhad the tools to develop and deliver a hard-hitting, integrated global messageand global brand platform."

In the fall of 1999, rumors were persistent on Madison Avenue that United was on the fritz with Fallon, especially after the agency's "Rising" campaign was deemed unsuccessful. But United stuck by the agency and launched a campaign focusing on bringing people together in January 2000. This past fall, Fallon developed several spots seeking to boost the airline's image after a summer rife with flight delays and cancellations resulted in consumer discontent. Fallon also launched a late fall spot promoting united.com.

The shootout was launched some 45 days ago and United declined to let outside agencies join in. At the time, airline spokesman Matt Triaca cited three reasons for the consolidation: the need for one agency to create a consistent voice and message worldwide; the opportunity to realize cost savings as the airline endured some financial problems after its difficult summer; and the ability "to create a foundation for a long-term partnership and we think this would be a great first step." In the statement released today, United said Mr. Dow felt Fallon's selection "builds a foundation for a long-term partnership between theairline and the agency" and "that one agency with globalaccountability gives United much more leverage to be smarter and move faster."

The size of the account is somewhat murky. United spent more than $70 million on U.S. advertising last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Spending outside the U.S. has been reported as high as $50 million. US Airways spent some $19 million in 1999, according to CMR.

When United split the account four years ago between the two agencies after moving away from Leo Burnett, Chicago, its decision was partly based on Fallon's lack of global resources. But Fallon has since been acquired by Publicis Groupe, giving it access to international resources. Y&R was also acquired last year by one of the leading global holding companies, WPP Group.

-David Goetzl

Copyright January 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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