ValuJet’s Hasty Chicago Flight Leaves Atlanta’s Hughes at Gate

ValuJet, the troubled cut-rate carrier that plans to change its name to AirTran Airlines, last week unexpectedly named Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago as its new agency of record. The budget is $15 million, according to the client.
The sudden switch was news to ValuJet’s current shop, Hughes Advertising here, and Fry/Hammond/Barr in Orlando, Fla., which handles Orlando-based AirTran Airways. The airlines’ parent firms agreed earlier this month to merge.
Despite his prior claims that ValuJet’s ad plans were status quo, senior vice president of marketing Ponder Harrison acknowledged last week that ValuJet had been talking to Cramer-Krasselt as far back as March, when C-K’s $7 million portion of the Southwest Airlines account was consolidated at GSD&M in Austin, Texas.
ValuJet will also work closely with C-K’s office in Orlando, where the merged airline is considering having its headquarters.
Hughes took on the ValuJet business last summer, after the May 1996 crash of a plane in Florida’s Everglades. As part of the deal, Hughes hired ValuJet’s in-house creative team, which originated the airline’s smiling airplane logo (dubbed the “critter”) and its deep-voiced radio ad star, “Captain Valu.”
Although Hughes presented several branding campaigns during its tenure–including suggested new monikers like AirStar, Venture and Go Airlines–it was unable to persuade ValuJet to change its marketing strategy. One Hughes spec ad features a frugal Texas millionaire and the headline: “There’s a saying in Texas for people who waste money on showy, material things. Big hat. No cattle.”
“We’ve got some wonderful campaigns,” said Dorothy Hughes, president of Hughes Advertising, which currently bills $20 million. “We could outfit a brand new airline.” The agency expects to layoff three or four of its 20 staffers.
For now, Fry/Hammond/Barr still handles AirTran Airways’ $3.5 million account. “I’m hoping that there’s room on board for [us],” said F/H/B president Pete Barr.