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United’s optimistic, holistic approach to branding underpins a shift in aviation marketing towards more positive and inclusive messaging that’s aligned with the market forces finally blowing in airlines’ favor.

United Airlines launched a new era in branding for the company this year when it unveiled its Good Leads the Way marketing campaign, its largest advertising effort in a decade.

It included United touching on themes such as pilot diversity, sustainability, and its efforts to improve customer service. Good Leads the Way was a comeback for the Chicago-based carrier, which, since its last major marketing campaign, has struggled with the fallout from its merger with Continental Airlines, the pandemic and ongoing pilot shortages.

The campaign, which came in at no. 5 on Ad Age’s 2022 Marketers of the Year list, features 60 employees appearing in more than 50 different pieces of video, digital and social media content.

“[The campaign] highlights the good things our employees do for our customers every day and the airline’s aspiration to be a force for good in the world,” United Chief Communications Officer Josh Earnest said upon its launch.

Good Leads the Way was United’s first effort with advertising agency 72andSunny, which has created marketing campaigns for, among other brands, Zoom and real estate marketplace company Zillow. Maggie Schmerin, United’s head of global advertising and social media, also played in a major role in the campaign. She’s seen the company adopt a more flexible and creative approach to advertising.

“Gone are the days where we just have two big advertising pushes a year,” Schmerin said. “We’re all about how we can be relevant and do a better job in social media and advertising.”

United did launch a second digital ad campaign in November that took aim at Southwest Airlines. United created a website named informing Southwest’s customers that its Courte-C call system will contact them before checking in so they can avoid a less-than-desirable seat. The campaign’s website reminded travelers that United flights include assigned seats, airport lounges.

Meanwhile, United has good reasons to be optimistic going into the new year. The company expects its operating margin in the fourth quarter of this year to exceed 2019 marks for the time since the start of the pandemic. And with long-haul international travel poised to rebound significantly next year, CEO Scott Kirby believes its recent order of 200 Boeing jets, which are geared toward intercontinental routes, will help cement United’s status as the U.S. flag carrier.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to correct Josh Earnest’s title at United Airlines. An earlier version listed him as Chief Customer Officer.


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Tags: advertising, airline marketing, marketing, marketing strategy, united airlines

Photo credit: A screenshot from United Airlines' campaign United Airlines

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