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The “New” United / Continental Branding

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First – after a crazy couple of months, I figured it’s about time I finally got back to posting on my blog. And, with yesterday’s introduction by United Airlines of their new advertising campaign, it made me realize something.

The new United Airlines branding….sucks!

I read a great article in Fast Company about the new United brand – and I agree. For those that don’t know the whole story, United basically acquired Continental. Since about 1974, United’s branding has included what some would call iconic – the “tulip”. OK…so it looked more like a “W” than a “U”. It was designed during the height of disco – almost 40 years ago. But the designer was the legendary Saul Bass – who, ironically, also designed the logo Continental used until the early ninety’s (known as the “meatball”).

The whole point of a logo – and of branding – is to differentiate your company from your competition – which is the easy part. The harder part is to associate a positive emotion with that image – both so that you are remembered, but also so that when a buying decision is being made, that positive emotion overrules the emotion to associate with the competition.

With the new “United” branding – first, it causes confusion. They took all of the “look & feel” of Continental, replace the word “Continental” with “United” and ran with it. But, the problem with this approach is – for those that are making a choice – the question is then asked “who am I flying?”  Now, there has been the argument out there that the branding is irrelevant – what is important is the service. Continental did rebuild their service after Frank Lorenzo nearly destroyed the airline back in the 90′s (to the point where he was banned from ever being involved with a airline again) – but United also not only survived bankruptcy – but came back stronger.

Given that it was a merger of near equals, at least in many flying customers minds – to me, it would have made more sense to merge the branding to signify the merger. For example – keep the tulip on the tail, pick up the font used in the word “Continental” (which would have also been a nice tie back to the serif font of United’s “stars & bars” branding of the early 70′s, but keep the gold / blue of Continental.

Again – there are two arguments about the branding. One is that people don’t care. The other is that people do care. To truly merge the two brands as suggested above – if no one really cares anyway, there is no damage. But, if people do care – well….it makes sense to put a bit more thought and effort into your branding before you abandon brand elements that have nearly 40 years of brand equity around them.

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