According to TNS Media Intelligence, United Airlies spent US$103 million on media in 2004 and US$78.4 million in 2005. The majority of these budgets were spent on traditional media campaigns aimed at positioning the airline with taglines such as ‘The friendly skies’ and ‘Its time to fly’. I can’t find any figures for the last couple of years but I know the media spend was substantial and the positioning then was related to the Sea Orchestra.
If the ad spend continued at roughly the same rate, then United has spent roughly US$350 million on traditional media without seeming to pay much attention to the customer. But it doesn’t matter how much UA spends on its positioning strategy/statement etc, because those consumers will define its brand.
This wonderful video tells of the experience of Dave Carroll who flew on United last year with his precious guitar. When he arrived in Nabraska, the guitar was broken. Dave went through the predictable process of being transferred between departments etc for over a year, before UA finally refused to accept responsibility. So far the video has been seen by nearly 3 million people. Compare that to the few thousand who have watched the archived United commercials.
United has received thousands and thousands of negative comments from consumers (google ‘United Airlines complaint’ and you’ll get 439,000 results) and this will continue especially as the airline is forming a cartel with Continental and eight other airlines later on this year that want, amongst other things, to be immune from prosecution when the cartel sets schedules and prices.
United will not be able to sustain such an approach to branding. Unless they understand that to survive and thrive, they need to build the brand on the economic, experiential and emotional value they provide to their customers and not on clever commercials that are great to watch but mean little to consumers seeking value, then they will not survive another 5 years.