The world is full of mediocre advertising. There are commercials that simply deliver a product message, and many of these are perfectly fine. There are spots that promise a happy family and life, and these can work ok. Most advertising just does what it is supposed to do: slightly increase purchase interest.
On occasion, however, a campaign hits the right note. It somehow brings together a truth with events in the world. It transcends the pedestrian business of marketing.
The new campaign from United is one of those efforts. You can watch it here.
It is a difficult time for airlines. Travelers are coming back as people head out to visit friends and family and see the world after years of staying home. Planes are full.
This is all good news, but staffing is an enormous problem. There aren’t enough ramp workers and customer service agents and flight attendants. The ones who haven’t quit are feeling stressed and irritated.
Things are particularly challenging because the travelers are leisure flyers, and these people often need more guidance and help. The business traveler who knows the routine, quietly takes her seat, and goes to sleep after a long day, is still working from home.
On top of this, fuel prices are soaring, and this is creating financial pressure. Fares are going up.
So pretty much everyone at United is stressed: the flyers, the flight attendants, the ramp agents, the pilots, the senior executives, everyone.
In some ways this is the state of the country. We are all happy to have summer coming, but there is stress all around: financial worries, COVID uncertainty, Roe, climate change, violence.
What do you say at a time like this?
The solution: tell people that United is a cute, lovable airline that does good things in the world.
United’s new marketing blitz puts forth the simple argument: we should all love United because at United, Good Leads the Way. The airline’s 80,000+ hero characters (also known as employees) bring us together, overcoming all sort of challenges along the way. The airline is environmentally friendly, too, and promotes diversity. It isn’t just about the United employees; the campaign makes a very deliberate attempt to connect with travelers and let them know that they are part of the story, too. United is a team effort.
According to the spot, we are all “On a mission to do good in the air and beyond, making the world a happier, friendlier, safer, greener, more inclusive, more fascinating place.”
The serious, focused airlines committed to excellence? Gone. The soaring company inspired by Rhapsody in Blue, and the business tool that lets people succeed in a competitive world? Gone. The elegant business class with nice champagne? Gone, or at least not featured in this campaign.
Does it work? Does United make the case that it is a lovable brand? I think it does. The tonality is light and casual, but not flippant. The proof points seem believable.
United’s campaign is the perfect message for the moment, a call for positivity.
The team behind this campaign understood an important insight: branding matters. If people love your brand, all sorts of good things happen. People will want to work for the company. It will be easier to recruit and retain employees, and they will feel good about their jobs. Travelers will make the brand their first choice and, more important, be forgiving when things to wrong. If prices go up, people will stick with it.
With this new campaign, United is building good will and positive feeling for its brand.
Perhaps there is a bigger message in this campaign. As we go through difficult times, we should not lose sight of the good things that are happening, and we should support brands that are trying their best to help us on our journey.
Professor Calkins, thanks for sharing this campaign and your perspective about it. I really appreciate the execution, it is clear, efficient, and resonates with the audience just before the hot season.