Airlines Reassess Ad Approach

With air travel forever changed by last week’s tragedy, airline executives and their agencies are reevaluating the tone and message of future marketing efforts.

Airline advertising was quickly pulled following the terrorist attacks, as is the practice whenever there is a major plane crash or airline disaster.

Executives now must not only look at when to resume marketing efforts, but also reconsider how to approach a wary public, officials said.

In an industry that spends $500 million on advertising domestically, the public’s inclination for cheap tickets likely will shift to acceptance of higher airfares if such proposed measures as so-called “sky marshals” and replacing minimum-wage security staffers with law enforcement mean safer trips, said an industry observer.

United-one of the two carriers involved in last week’s tragedy-had planned to spend more than $100 million on product initiatives such as rolling out check-in kiosks to more airports than any of its competitors. Northwest and Continental also have self-check-in kiosks, but not to the extent being pursued by United.

The airline’s major ad push this summer was those service initiatives, including Easy Check-in kiosks. That system, which allows customers to punch in information and get a boarding pass on their own, is unlikely to survive new security measures expected at the nation’s airports.

The Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based carrier was also expected to break an estimated $100 million global branding campaign this fall, the first worldwide work from Fallon in Minneapolis. The work was to replace a campaign developed by the agency last year that focused on how United helps bring people together. The future of the new branding effort or other work could not be determined.

A Fallon representative, citing the ongoing investigation into the hijackings, referred calls to United. United representatives did not return calls by press time.

American Airlines, the other carrier involved in last week’s tragedy, has been touting comfort in recent advertising with the tag, “More room through coach.” Gail Cookse, a representative for American’s agency, Temerlin McClain, said the carrier’s advertising will be “evaluated as we go forward.” A recent spot from the Irving, Texas, agency for American depicted a flight attendant removing a row of seats in response to a passenger’s request for more legroom.

Also being reconsidered is GSD&M’s work for Southwest Airlines, which has long centered on humor and employed the tag, “You are now free to move about the country,” mimicking a pilot’s pronouncement that the seat-belt sign has been turned off.

“Southwest Airlines has suspended for at least a week, and we now will begin the process of discussing what the future tone of their advertising will be,” said GSD&M president Roy Spence in a statement. “It’s really too early to tell what’s going to happen.”