United Continental begins new branding effort

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted Feb. 28 at 6:06 a.m.

Five months after United Airlines and Continental Airlines sealed their legal merger, the combined company said it will introduce an “interim” advertising campaign this week and begin changing the United Web site to comport with the new look, which melds the United name with the well-known globe that Continental used.

United Continental Holdings Inc.’s chief of brand marketing, Kevin McKenna, said the new campaign will debut Tuesday on billboards and in the carrier’s Hemispheres magazine. Later in March it will roll out in newspapers and magazines in the two airlines’ hub markets, with special emphasis on the competitive New York area. Continental has a big hub in Newark, N.J.

In April, the carrier, known as United, will unveil new signage at the stadiums of the five Major League Baseball teams it sponsors, he said, and in May that signage will begin to appear in its large airports. McKenna said the new logo and look will immediately begin appearing in connection with the carrier’s various other sponsorships.

Already, United has repainted 155 regional aircraft flying on behalf of the company, along with 31 mainline United jetliners. Another 118 Continental mainline planes have been renamed. United, based in Chicago, is the world’s largest airline by traffic.

Continental’s blue and gold globe logo, already featured in its stand-alone “Work Hard. Fly Right” ads, will be featured as the backdrop in the new ads, but now “United” is featured next to the globe in the company’s logo. The new ads, which won’t have a tagline, will highlight the combined airline’s larger route network, new “outlook,” low-fare guarantees and various product attributes, according to a review of six examples.

United said Continental’s ad agency since 1998, New York-based Kaplan Thaler Group, will handle the new campaign. United’s existing agency, Minneapolis-based Barrie D’Rozario Murphy, will continue to work on marketing projects.

Effective in March, the United Web site will undergo changes so the new logo appears at the top of the home page, and the site will begin using photographic images instead of United’s quirky illustrations. This also represents the end of the road for United’s “tulip” logo, the overlapping two letter Us that have been part of its look since the early 1970s.

“Lots of people are not too pleased about seeing the tulip retired,” Mr. McKenna acknowledged. A Facebook page was created for saving the old logo.

But the combined company has chosen to retain United’s theme song, George Gershwin’s 1924 “Rhapsody in Blue,” which has been in use since the mid-1970s, he said.

McKenna said the two carriers won’t mesh their sites until 2012, and rebranding at its airports and on its fleet won’t be completed until 2013. Workers will get new uniforms in mid-2012. The interim ad campaign will give way to a new one in March 2012, after the two companies hope to be fully integrated. He declined to comment on the company’s ad budget.

But in anticipation of a day this spring when airport employees and check-in kiosks from each side will be able to handle passenger transactions for both companies, McKenna said, airport agents and flight attendants will be issued lapel pins with the new logo and workers on the ramp and in cargo and catering will receive new caps.

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