The Blog

The “New” United / Continental Branding

First – after a crazy couple of months, I figured it’s about time I finally got back to posting on my blog. And, with yesterday’s introduction by United Airlines of their new advertising campaign, it made me realize something.

The new United Airlines branding….sucks!

I read a great article in Fast Company about the new United brand – and I agree. For those that don’t know the whole story, United basically acquired Continental. Since about 1974, United’s branding has included what some would call iconic – the “tulip”. OK…so it looked more like a “W” than a “U”. It was designed during the height of disco – almost 40 years ago. But the designer was the legendary Saul Bass – who, ironically, also designed the logo Continental used until the early ninety’s (known as the “meatball”).

The whole point of a logo – and of branding – is to differentiate your company from your competition – which is the easy part. The harder part is to associate a positive emotion with that image – both so that you are remembered, but also so that when a buying decision is being made, that positive emotion overrules the emotion to associate with the competition.

With the new “United” branding – first, it causes confusion. They took all of the “look & feel” of Continental, replace the word “Continental” with “United” and ran with it. But, the problem with this approach is – for those that are making a choice – the question is then asked “who am I flying?”¬† Now, there has been the argument out there that the branding is irrelevant – what is important is the service. Continental did rebuild their service after Frank Lorenzo nearly destroyed the airline back in the 90’s (to the point where he was banned from ever being involved with a airline again) – but United also not only survived bankruptcy – but came back stronger.

Given that it was a merger of near equals, at least in many flying customers minds – to me, it would have made more sense to merge the branding to signify the merger. For example – keep the tulip on the tail, pick up the font used in the word “Continental” (which would have also been a nice tie back to the serif font of United’s “stars & bars” branding of the early 70’s, but keep the gold / blue of Continental.

Again – there are two arguments about the branding. One is that people don’t care. The other is that people do care. To truly merge the two brands as suggested above – if no one really cares anyway, there is no damage. But, if people do care – well….it makes sense to put a bit more thought and effort into your branding before you abandon brand elements that have nearly 40 years of brand equity around them.

Airlines & Marketing

It always amazes me how some industries think that if they market things a certain way, people are too stupid – or gullible – to see the truth. (Or…is it that the consultants they use look at their customers this way?)

Case in point – the airline industry. Currently, oil is trading at nearly $150 / barrel. Double what it was a year ago. Planes use fuel. So, it would be reasonable for me to expect airfares to rise across the board.

Instead, the airlines have decided that to remain “competitive”, they’ll keep airfares down by raising their fees for other things, as well as eliminating some services. Northwest announced today that they will now charge $15 for the first bag – due to rising fuel costs. Hey – guys – whether it’s you, American, or any other airline that’s decided the “first bag fee” will be a great way to offset costs – how about you just raise my ticket $15!!

When I’m traveling, the last thing I want to deal with at check in is “oh…you have a bag – whip out your credit card so we can now charge you more money”. I expect fares to go up. Thanks to TSA’s security protocols, I have no desire to drag my crap on-board anymore – I already hate taking off my shoes while smelling the socks of the dude next to me that has an aversion to showering, while waiting for the family of 300 ahead of me to collect their kids, shoes, laptop, toys, etc. and get the freakin’ hell out of my way!

So…why do they think they’re fooling me? Is this to keep the all-important business traveler who travels in & out in one day with no bag? With companies cutting back on travel costs anyway – do they think this makes a huge difference? Why not raise everybody’s fare $15, collect the money from EVERYBODY, and allow everybody to catch their damn flight instead of getting stuck at check-in with more bag charges?

Southwest has it right. They’re marketing their fares with “we don’t charge for this / that / everything else – we make it simple”. Maybe that’s part of the reason they have such customer loyalty – rather than just cheaper fares?

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