The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 phased out the Civil Aeronautics Board and its control of pricing and routes in commercial aviation and paved the way for decades of new entrants and consolidation on an unprecedented scale. Now in the U.S. we have three major airlines: American, United and Delta and of course three favorite “brands” in JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America. So, it is not surprising that we are in the midst of a classic “battle of the brands,” as the big three legacy carriers attempt to carve out distinctive images.
As we know, American launched a new identity in 2013 and is digging itself out of a self-inflicted hole by aggressively adding new aircraft and showing computer animated simulations of the new livery flying around in the clouds with a voice-over featuring “Don Draper,” from Mad Men. Delta, while often producing beautifully filmed TV commercials, still punctuates them with the theme “Keep Climbing,” which seems ironically similar to the ill-fated United campaign of a few years ago, “Rising,” which failed because it offered a service proposition that they were unable to credibly deliver.
United, in an attempt to freshen their image, has turned back the clock and re-introduced the “Fly the Friendly Skies” tag line that many of us remember from childhood. They have done a brilliant job in bringing back one of the most memorable tag lines in U.S. advertising history (not just in aviation) and made it relevant for today’s audiences. So far the feedback has been positive as United is showing that a great idea is one that stands the test of time. In the new ads and billboards, it is not surprising to see visuals of a mobile device accessing the United route map in a cyber inspired environment, and to see United working with Twitter followers to build intimacy across the globe.
Marketers will be observing closely how these three campaigns unfold and whether or not consumers will be moved to embrace the ongoing attempt to win loyalty in the skies, whether “friendly” or not.