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Meet Ted. (No, I didn't say meat head.)
Salon features an article on Ted, United's discount carrier.
My initial reaction to this is with a jaded sense of skepticism toward a big, bankrupt airline -- even though I've had a good experience with United in my various travels with them. So, in trying to think past that and think about the branding issue at hand, here are my initial thoughts:
The strategy is ripe because nobody likes the airline industry
- The airline industry is full of unfeeling behemoths that fundamentally don't get customer service. Travelers are at the service and mercy of the airlines, when it should be the other way 'round.
- A new airline has the opportunity to be more human, more approachable, and perhaps more irreverent in breaking through the bad stereotypes.
- A new no-frills airline has to avoid seeming 'cheap' and by extension unsafe. Think ValueJet. You may remember ValueJet as the East coast carrier that, as a cost-cutting measure, put passengers at risk by shipping hazardous materials (strike one). Then, with a crash and ensuing passenger deaths (strike two) they're not around anymore.
- Finally, we can't expect JetBlue and Southwest to be the only players in the no-frills market forever.
The execution is a missed opportunity
If United wanted to copy the golden formula for JetBlue and Southwest, they missed a key ingredient. One of the key ingredients for JetBlue and Southwest is the low cost. But the reason people buy into flying Southwest and JetBlue is one part price and one part attitude. SW and JB have poked a proverbial stick in the eye of the airline industry. They've axed the class seating system (now all customers get the same good service) and they've dumped the chicken or beef mentality.
Ted is too close to United to effectively be sold as an independent. Instead of benefitting from peoples' frustration with the big airlines, Ted is in danger of just being a little, obnoxious version of same.
Think about this a second. With a no-frills version of United, should we expect the new cheaper flights and the same old planes? Should we expect limited destinations and the same crappy food? Do we get to have the first-come seating arrangement and that signature grumpy, "and you are" attitude from the 'service' staff? No thanks.
They should have distanced themselves from the baggage of the airline industry as a whole and from United specifically. Southwest and JetBlue have done this successfully. Their ads are witty but they're careful not to over-promise. It's because they don't readily fit the airline industry mold that they can credibly call themselves independent.
I'm sure Ted wanted the best of both worlds. They want the appeal of a first-name basis and the independence that comes with being a little informal. Yet they hang on to the safety of not straying too far. With the name Ted and the big U mark on the tail, they've tried to infuse the airline with United's credibility, safety and on-time record. Instead, they're in danger of having strung United's dirty laundry from the tail.
Disclaimer: I know this is early to judge a new brand. Especially when all we've seen is a press release and the airplane livery. We'll know the full story when we fly Ted or deal with their site or watch their ads.