United Airlines: Friends in High Places

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  • We had to tell passengers that United Airlines understood them. Well, these ads didn’t tell them. They showed them – by demonstrating knowledge that only an insider would have. Having Bruno Barbey, one of the world’s great photojournalists shoot the campaign didn’t hurt either. The campaign ran in Chinese and English.

  • United Airlines faced a classic conundrum. It was the quintessential American airline, it had more connections to North America than any other airline yet it had few takers because its service was perceived as being brusque, foreign and even rude – American, in other words – especially when compared to regional flagship carriers like Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific. United fixed this problem by hiring flight attendants from across Asia. It then came to us with this brief: inform flyers that United Airlines flights in Asia were now staffed by Asian flight attendants. “Tell passengers United Airlines understands them”.

    The Solution: Well, these ads didn’t tell them. They showed them. The “Friends in high places” campaign consisted of a series of ads that communicated with passengers from inside their own cultures. Each ad demonstrated a knowledge of things that only an insider could have: language, shortcuts through a city, food. It was a multicultural campaign, in its truest sense.

    The Result: Created at Leo Burnett Hong Kong, these ads won awards locally, regionally and internationally. (Having Bruno Barbey, one of the world’s greatest photojournalists, shoot the campaign may have helped.) But, more importantly, they put bums in seats. For the first time in a long while United Airlines became a contender, as Asian businessmen, in the busiest business flight sector in the world, finally became comfortable with the airline as a viable alternative.