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unitedAd.jpgA golden age in the annals of airline advertising officially ended Tuesday when the merged United Airlines unveiled its first ad campaign from Kaplan Thaler/New York ad agency, best known for creating the iconic Aflac duck.

United's new campaign, the first to reflect last fall's joining of United with Continental Airlines, does away with the elegant, illustration-centric print ads and television commercials that for the past four years were a hallmark of the United advertising created by the Minneapolis boutique shop Barrie, D'Rozario Murphy.

Those print ads and story-driven commercials were always smart and sophisticated -- the finest examples of airline advertising since the landmark "World's Favorite Airline" campaigns for British Airways from Saatchi & Saatchi/London in the late 1980's."

United's ads from BDM helped elevate the carrier's image even as the airline was struggling to right itself after a difficult bankruptcy filing. Barrie D'Rozario Murphy will continue to work on marketing projects for United, but it will not be the lead ad agency.

The new United advertising just now breaking incorporates much of the imagery associated with previous Continental campaigns, which have been handled for many years by Kaplan Thaler. It is certainly a functional campaign, if not hugely creative.

The dominant graphic in the print ads and billboards is the stylized globe seen in countless Continental ads and on the tail of the carrier's aircraft. New TV ads aren't expected over the next 12 months, though United senior vice-president of marketing Mark Bergsrud said it's possible a couple of existing Continental TV ads could be adapted for use over the next year.

The first series of print ads breaking later this month focus -- with a bit of humor -- on specific product benefits of the combined carriers, including an expanded route system, a roomier Economy Plus seating section and the DirecTV available on select Continental aircraft. The new prints ads carry no tagline, and one probably won't be added until an agency review is completed this summer. Continental's advertising tagline was "Work Hard. Fly Right," while United used "It's Time To Fly."

Bergsrud said Kaplan Thaler will be invited to pitch the United account this summer, along with several yet-to-be-selected shops. It's not known yet whether BDM will participate in the review.

The new United campaign is expected to be in place for about a year. In conjunction with the current advertising rollout, United also is dropping all BDM illustrations from its website and replacing them with photographs.

United's inflight magazine, Hemispheres, also is switching to cover photographs instead of illustrations. Continental dropped its inflight magazine and replaced it with Hemispheres last month.

Glenn Tilton, chairman of United Continental Holdings and former CEO of United Airlines, has been honored with the American Cancer Society's inaugural CEO of the Year Award. Part of the ACS's Corporate Impact Award series, the CEO of the Year Award honors a corporate executive officer's excellence in leadership, personal commitment of time and impact in the fight against cancer in the workplace.

Under Tilton's leadership, United Airlines made cancer-related programs the cornerstone of its volunteer efforts. Through a multi-year, cause-related "Hugyou Teddy Bear Family" program, United and its customers have generated more than 148 million airline miles and nearly half a million dollars in cash contributions for cancer patients and their families who need to travel for treatment.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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