United Re-Launches Slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies”

United kept “Rhapsody in Blue” as its signature music when it merged with Continental several years ago. Now The New York Times reports it’s bringing back the popular advertising slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies,” which it dumped in 1996. Read United’s official press release.

United Flyer Friendly

However, I have several problems with the new campaign.

First, there’s no evidence that United is actually emphasizing the original phrase. Instead it uses the idea and focuses on the phrase “flyer friendly” instead. Even the URL for the re-launch is united.com/flyerfriendly, and commercials on United Hub are in a section labeled “Flyer Friendly.”

If you listen to the script, “Fly the Friendly Skies” is never mentioned.

Every thought.

Every movement.

Carefully planned, coordinated, and synchronized.

Performing together with a single, united purpose.

That’s what makes the world’s leading airline “flyer friendly.”

They could have changed that last sentence to: “Fly the friendly skies and see what makes us the world’s leading airline.” But they didn’t.

The second reason I’m disappointed is because the new advertising campaign lacks any emotional pull. One of the great things about some of United’s legacy commercials was that they focused on passengers and how travel for work, travel for pleasure, and even returning home to loved ones was a part of their lives. United was a part of their lives. I feel like the new commercials focus more on United and how United is doing this or that rather than focusing on the customer.

Check out one of my favorite classic commercials and compare it to the new one above. (It uses a different slogan, “It’s Time to Fly,” which I prefer more. But it has the emotional pull that I think carries a stronger message.):

Finally — and this may not be too different from my second point — I don’t see how much of what United talks about is actually “friendly.” How is WiFi friendly? How are synchronized operations friendly? How is seat-back entertainment friendly? Maybe they are. But I don’t think these commercials do a good job of explaining the concept. They’re not inspiring. And they don’t make me any more excited to to fly United.

Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • James

    It’s funny how a fellow *A member gets it, the emotional pull, better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=F_wxDuN3WNA

  • http://www.first2board.com/foodwineandmiles Food Wine and Miles

    I agree that referencing the “friendly skies” is a bit disingenuous – as the campaign is taking a pretty different direction from the original. I also didn’t like the choice of the word “friendly” at first, because it just didn’t feel like the right word. However, as I thought about it more, I actually do like “flyer friendly” – and while it isn’t dripping in emotion, I think it gets enough for the story they’re trying to tell. I read it as “an optimized experienced for people who fly a lot”, but with much better copy than that. It’s a versatile term as well. The main focus might be on frequent flyers, but you can easily spin it as “family-friendly” or “foodie-friendly” or lots of other angles, to tilt it toward different types of audiences.

  • modhop

    I totally agree. There needs to be better visual juxtaposition. For every move the orchestra makes there should be a flight attendant tucking in a Business First customer or serving a jammed into E- half a can of coke (smiling, of course). For every note of music a player looks at, there should be a pilot going over his or her flight plan. The little bit of actual United “employee” footage is too short and doesn’t seem to tie into the voiceover well at all.

    This is just an orchestra in coach with us having to look at that awful livery again. (The song worked much better with the tulip, I can’t explain why.)

    • Scottrick

      I find it amusing the FA is serving sparkling water (champagne maybe? in stemware!!!) to passengers in economy.

  • Levy Flight

    Perhaps it is a reference to the cramped quaters of UA 777 in business class minus?

  • sfomsp

    Your analysis lost some credibility when you pulled out an old United commercial as an example of what works. The financial results out of bankruptcy and of the era of those spots speak for themselves. In 2006 UA’s share price was coincidentally about the same as Continental’s…$31 and $34 respectively. In 2009, the last full year before the merger United’s was $8, and Continental’s $14.

    UA revenue down 17% from 2006-2009, Continental’s down 5%. One running negative operating margin, the other positive.

    http://www.airlinefinancials.com/uploads/United_2002-2010__mainline_ops_.pdf

    http://www.airlinefinancials.com/uploads/2002-2009_Continental_mainline.pdf

    No ad is perfect, but those old United spots showed how out of touch the silos were. Almost nothing functional or differentiating about what United the airline offers in them. They’re…global? If United is already part of my life why do I need an ad campaign to tell me.

    At least these showcase the product throughout the spot for those who don’t yet fly them regularly, because at the end of the day buying a plane ticket is a much more rational than emotional decision. And unlike the old UA ads they call on the employees to deliver something – working in concert to get the planes there on time.

    • Scottrick

      I never said anything about which commercial makes the company profitable. I said which commercial I like more and why.