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How to Present the Image of a Merged Airline

Continental Airlines executives knew they were in a jam. It was just days after their parent company bought aircraft from the disbanding Frontier Airlines. Upon inspection of the much-traveled planes, the interiors were found to need sprucing up. A mass grounding of the planes would cost Continental millions, but allowing the unkempt aircraft to go airborne would be a 727-sized embarrassment.

What to do?

After consulting marketing experts, the giant air carrier opted to post creatively composed “Pardon Our Dust” signs. Painted on exterior tails of all planes and placed in seat pockets, the signs read: “Proud Bird to Be.”

“It was the best way to let people know that we are making the transition,” said Jim O’Donnell, marketing VP at Continental. Since the Nov. 1 purchase, the airline has slowly begun grounding the planes--one by one--to repaint and refurbish them.

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Continental is hardly flying alone in the merger skies. In the past year, a number of major airlines are changing hands--including American Airlines’ agreement last week to purchase AirCal for $225 million. Also, Delta Air Lines agreed to buy Western Airlines in September, and Northwest Airlines completed its purchase of Republic Airlines in mid-August. As acquisitions become about as common as delayed flights, airline executives are coming face to face with a troublesome marketing dilemma: how to market the fact that the competition has become part of your company?

While American Airlines executives are still pondering how they will market AirCal, the company expects to take actions similar to those by other recently merged airlines. For the first few months, ad executives say, the buyer should advertise the transition as a happy marriage that will give customers better service. But within six months or so, the acquired company should be so neatly folded into the buyer that customers have virtually forgotten the old company’s name.

In the case of American Airlines swallowing AirCal--a local carrier highly regarded for its service--the marketing gets even more tricky. “Not only do customers need assurance that the service will get even better,” said C. Samuel Craig, marketing professor at New York University, “but they have to actually see the improvements.”

American plans no major marketing changes until final approval of the sale, said Steve McGregor, an American spokesman. But the giant air carrier is not sitting still. In a few weeks, the American Advantage program that awards free trips to frequent travelers will also apply to all AirCal flights.

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Similarly, Delta is already putting together a new ad campaign expected to begin in April. This, despite the fact that Delta is still awaiting shareholder approval of its announced, $860-million purchase of Western. “You don’t just stick up a Delta logo and hope everything goes fine,” said William Berry, a Delta spokesman.

Indeed, one of the trickiest changes of all is meshing names when airlines merge. After all, carriers spend untold millions annually to breed name familiarity. Then, with one purchase--poof, a name can disappear. Said one airline executive, “Confusion over an airline’s name is baggage that no customer should have to carry around.”

American Airlines plans to quickly meld AirCal’s name into its own. Delta will soon replace the Western name. And Northwest moved to dump Republic this summer after completing the purchase. Likewise, Continental will swallow the names New York Air and People Express--but not Eastern. After all, said Continental’s O’Donnell, the Eastern name is more than 50 years old and has a very loyal following. “Why would we want to mess with it?”

Drexel Burnham Lambert Ads to Continue Taking Celebrity Route

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Drexel Burnham Lambert has been in the spotlight for the past week as the government’s investigation of insider trading heats up, but the New York investment firm has no plans to speak to that issue in its advertising.

Instead, it intends to continue its current $4-million, print ad campaign that features celebrities Andy Warhol, Dizzy Gillespie and William (the Refrigerator) Perry. The campaign, created by Chiat/Day Inc. Advertising, will expire in late December. But even after that, Drexel has “no plans” to drastically change its advertising, said Elizabeth Tower, VP of corporate communications.

Ad executives generally say that, during a time of corporate crisis, the best advertising is no advertising. From a public relations standpoint, said Alan Pando, West Coast president of DDB Needham Worldwide, it’s best “to pull the ads until the whole thing blows over.”

Princess Cruises to Acknowledge Its Mirror Image to ‘Love Boat’

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Talk about cruise control.

Two of the biggest cruise ship operators, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines of Miami and Princess Cruises of Los Angeles, separately made key marketing moves last week in their quests for control of the high- seas tourist trade.

For 10 years, Princess Cruises has sailed clear of advertising its close connections with the television show “Love Boat.” This, despite the fact that the now-syndicated sitcom has paid a fat fee to show footage of a Princess cruise ship. Even the costumes worn by “Love Boat” crew members are modeled after those worn by Princess officers.

Now, Princess Cruises has changed course.

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Last week, it signed Gavin MacLeod, best known as the “The Love Boat’s” Capt. Merrill Stubing, to spearhead a $10-million print and TV campaign scheduled to break in January. Although MacLeod will make no specific mention of “Love Boat,” it’s hard to miss the connection between the two, said Max Hall, marketing director of Princess Cruises.

But the Love Boat may be lugging some unwanted cargo. “That show has been a boon and bane to our industry,” said Mike Petty, director of marketing for Royal Caribbean cruises, which plans to unleash a $15-million ad campaign of its own next year as a forerunner to its planned 1988 launch of the world’s largest cruise ship. “Love Boat created a lot of awareness about cruising,” Petty said, “but also a lot of misconceptions.”

New Product’s Marketing Motto: Just Show Folks How It Works

Every once in a while, a new product comes a long that makes you wonder why you didn’t think of it.

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Take, for example, a new gizmo called Porta Copy--a hand-held copying machine. The small gadget uses thermal technology and heat-sensitive paper. Its heat sensitive elements react to print and transfer the image to the paper. To make a copy, you slowly move the gadget along the area to be copied, and it transfers the image onto a 3-inch-wide strip of paper.

What’s especially interesting about this $395, down-sized duplicating machine isn’t just its size. It’s how the manufacturer, Silver Reed America Inc., has decided to market it. Starting tomorrow--and for the next year--the Torrance-based company will spend more than $5 million to advertise one thing: how the pint-sized copier works.

Unlike most new-product campaigns, which are often big on splash, Ogilvy & Mather has opted to simply show the copier copying. “If you have a demonstratively different product,” said Al Stefl, vice president at Ogilvy, “that’s what you do--demonstrate it.”


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