Brilliant: United Targets Southwest With Feisty New Denver Ads

Filed Under: Media, Southwest

United Airlines has today launched an ad campaign targeted at Southwest Airlines in Denver. United has long been Denver’s biggest airline, but Southwest is the second biggest carrier there, and has been growing at a fast pace.

Well, United has just unveiled a new not-so-subtle ad campaign targeted at Southwest, and I’ve gotta say, it’s well done. The ads try to appeal to consumers primarily on two levels — United flies more places nonstop, and United has more “roots” in Denver. The ads encourage customers to accept “nothing less than mile high standards.”

One ad highlights how United offers nonstop flights to Hawaii’s beaches, while Southwest offers “some stops” to Hawaii’s beaches.

There’s a similar ad about Cozumel, highlighting how United offers “Cozumel nonstop,” while Southwest offers “Cozumel eventually,” since Southwest’s service routes through Houston.

There’s another ad about how “anything less than the world is just less,” about how United operates flights to the most destinations from Denver than any other airline (including Southwest).

In another ad United highlights its on-time record, noting that “we’re five years ahead of the competition,” suggesting that the airline has more on-time departures than Southwest for five years in a row. Without looking up statistics, that seems like a pretty backwards ad — I don’t care if my flight leaves on time, I care if my flight arrives on time.

Then there are two ads highlighting how United has a big pilot training facility in Denver. One ad talks about how “we’d literally go nowhere if it wasn’t for Denver,” pointing out that United trains more than 10,000 pilots per year at the company’s flight training center in Denver.

Another ad says “if your kids ask where pilots come from, tell them Denver,” and it’s intended to make a similar point. Now that’s cute!

Along similar lines, there’s an ad about how “it takes a village to raise an airline,” pointing out that United employees more than 6,000 people in Denver.

United deserves credit for this, in my opinion — it’s a smart and witty ad campaign that makes some valid points about United’s relative advantages. Of course Southwest could come back and make ad campaigns about how the airline offers all passengers free carry-on bags, two checked bags, and more.

What do you make of United’s new Denver ad campaign targeting Southwest?

  1. I’d rather have Kirby actually do things to make United a good airline rather than have witty advertising.

  2. I always LOVE attack ads, there should be more of these outside of politics. Kirby and Kelly should rap battle.

    Hawaii makes tons of sense but weird to highlight a route (CZM) that they only fly 4x a week. If leaving on T,Th,F you must stop and UA/WN both blocked for the exact same amount time – AA actually gets your there the quickest.

    Frontier also flies nonstop DEN-CZM, sometimes for 1/4 of the cost.

  3. Sorry United can’t hear you over my:

    No bulls*it Basic Economy
    2 Bags
    32′ inches of pitch
    Wi-Fi that actually works
    Actual customer service
    No CRJ-200’s

  4. All it takes is someone to crunch some numbers to realize United can’t compete with southwest. To pay $100-200+ extra on a one way flight on United versus southwest. Then it’s basic economy, in addition to paying for luggage. It’s not even close. Give me southwest for almost half the cost and taking 2 extra hours to get there. Free checked bags. Nice try United.

  5. To add to John’s list

    And a boarding process that beats the heck out of getting into the UA group 2 line 30 minutes before boarding and finding it already has 50 people in it:-(

  6. A for effort. Maybe the advertising department could take over customer service? Then maybe UA would have a chance…but I seriously doubt there’s enough lipstick in the world to cover up UA’s PR/CS/Inflight departments’ deficiencies.

  7. They do have a point though regarding Southwest’s Hawaii service. Unless you live in California, it’s difficult to book Southwest round trip to Hawaii, mainly for the leg back. Their resistance towards red eyes on their return flight either means you have to spend a night in California before flying back home the next day, or leave the islands early in the morning just go arrive at home late a night, using a full day just to travel instead of taking advantage of an overnight flight.

    Yeah, would still have a layover (unlike direct past the west coast) and redeyes suck, but Southwest is leaving a lot on the table regarding their Hawaii service. But also does seem funny United called them out on it when their flights from Denver to Hawaii experienced the engine failure.

  8. I thought the only way you could get to CZM was to take a time machine back to 1987. Is there a lot of demand between Denver and Cozumel?

  9. @greg, huh? EWR was the second largest and #1 most profitable hub for Continental before it merged into UA. United’s ad campaigns in NYC about EWR’s proximity vs JFK kind of fell flat.

    These ads are cheeky yes and some are quite funny, at least to me, someone who isn’t a fan of WN, their business model, or their network.

  10. These ads are cool for sure but no one will book united over AA or SW if the latter is cheaper on google flights or wherever they book their flights. Period. Thats why its a race to low cost, everyone online claims to care about service, ife, ammenities but 99% of flyers pick on price and price alone.

  11. If I ever begin to favor airlines with witty advertising, United will be my first choice. Until then, I won’t be going anywhere near United.

  12. @PH Are you proposing that as opposed to WN flights to Dallas where the engine fails and actually kills passengers? Good one.

  13. Ads don’t change the fact that WN has a higher percentage of SEATS from Denver than it has ever had and for the month of May WN offers 84% of the number of seats that UA offers. WN has carried the most LOCAL DEN passengers for years. UA just runs a bigger operation due to connections and regional jets.
    From Newark, also for the month of May, UA is offering just 55% of the seats offered by all airlines from the airport, down from 65% two years earlier.

  14. Boo United. Don’t talk to me about “Mile High Standards.” High standards start with keeping your promises and obligations. Honor your Lifetime United Club memberships!

  15. @Greg – know you are a fanboy and all, but UA’s market share at EWR is dropping quickly once slots were lifted…can’t quite command the same revenue premium anymore

  16. @shoeguy – Yes I’m referring to the snarky text 90s ads during the Bethune era when EWR was won – these are ripped from that playbook

  17. They have to do something. End of last year Southwest sent me a thinking of you card as a Denver area resident.

  18. If it’s a sign that they’re going to pour more money and flights in DIA, as a Denverite and frequent UA flyer, I’m all for it.

  19. All I have to do is remember the 14 different lines I had to stand in as a 1K to get my wife and I rebooked when a partner airline denied my wife boarding (separate record locators). Since we were traveling internationally, we both went on the next flight to FRA 30 minutes later, still arrived more than 5 hours before our next flight. United of course cancelled out the rest of our itinerary, hence the 14 different lines to get home (and not being seated together too).

    While Southwest doesn’t “offer” some of the amenities UA does, they usually meet or exceed our expectations. United has in this case and so many others failed to meet expectations. So much so that I’m strangely pleased when I am satisfied on a UA flight. Southwest has become my airline of choice, when I’m not flying first class on a paid ticket (about the only time UA meets expectations). The companion pass is also a great incentive too fly them as well, nothing similar on UA.

  20. United’s new vanity project. Questionable claims listed here as well as the other “hubs” they fly through.

  21. Honest question: does anyone get influenced by airline ads? Airline travel is a commodity. Price, timings, convenience, in-flight amenities, maybe the FF program, those are all things that matter, but I could give a flying leap about where an airline trains its pilots. And I don’t need UA to tell me they fly direct to cozumel. I’ll go to kayak, enter my dates and pick from what options are available (and then check southwest’s site since they’re not on kayak).

    I get that a new airline has to advertise to get people to know they exist, or maybe when an airline is moving into a new city (like Delta into SEA), it pays to get your name out somewhat. But if you’re united in Denver, everyone knows who you are, and no one is going to say “oh, I didn’t know they train pilots here. Let’s spend an extra fifty bucks and fly them.”

    Ps. I feel the same way about livery changes. Unless your livery is at risk of blinding ground crew or giving passengers seizures, no one cares what the outside of your plane looks like. What a way to waste a few million dollars…

  22. I’m not a fan of United but I do think the marketing team did a great job here. Well done.

    I didnt fail to notice that not a single one of those promos focused on service, prob a good thing. And this campaign I think will make some people reconsider plans, but very few I think. This is more about keeping their current customer base before it erodes more and gives current customers with reasons to stay.

  23. I’m not a United promoter, but with DEN as a base, I actually prefer it over Southwest. I think in part because expectations are so much higher with Southwest that I’m constantly disappointed – for example, they’re the only airline I lost money to due to Covid. I dislike the boarding process. And their award program is useless.

    United flies more places that I go (as their ads drive home) and I’ve used their points for a few good international redemptions over the years. With the United credit card, I get free carryon/checked bag/group 2 (with my 50 closest friends, granted) boarding even if I choose the basic economy fare, removing the most painful aspects. And every now and then I’ll find a good enough F fare to make it worth purchasing.

    Hopefully United really is turning things around, but regardless, while I love the Southwest brand story, I’ll pass on the airline just about every time.

  24. Lots of funny comments.

    I’m short, a witty job by UA’s marketing team.

    Years ago they did similar campaigns for Newark, which made more sense to me, as they were/are competing against LGA and JFK.

    I don’t have a horse in the race re Denver, as I’m AA loyal. Interesting to me how United, Southwest and Frontier can support such powerful hubs at Denver.

    My brother is a huge corporate traveler from Denver, and swears by Southwest. I guess SW is popular for good reason.

  25. SWA always will beat the competition domestic USA. Can not wait to see their come backs in the jet ways.

  26. Curious if many of you just simply skimmed the story but really came here just so you could spew the United hatred? Face it, AA, Delta, and all the other US carriers are basically crap as well. Either the ads were witty or not, not much more to it here. I don’t give a FF if you don’t like United. You probably haven’t flown them in years and you won’t try because you might lose out on your 386 miles in your (insert program here) account.

  27. Not sure what to say – are they witty ads? Sure. The only reason I give any thought to them though is that they are here on OMAAT. Both airlines have their advantages and disadvantages. I can say I have had good experiences on both airlines. I can say I have had more bad experiences on United than SWA. I can say I have had more brilliant experiences on United than SWA. I can say I do not like the boarding process of SWA. I can say that on SWA, I have the security of knowing I will be flying on a 737 and not something smaller. I can say there are fewer fees on SWA than United.

  28. Some mentioned EWR.

    The reason of WN abandoning EWR was very reasonable. EWR sucks at transportation.
    Taxi from Manhattan? You either get stuck at Manhattan or I-78 or Turnpike.
    Driving? don’t missed the exit or you will become panic due to confusing signs.
    Train to NY Penn? Good luck with NJ Trainsit, especially double-deck trains of NEC while you carry 27″ baggage.

    If WN’s executives are not insane, they will stick with LGA/JFK or even PHL for CNJ and not return to EWR.

  29. WN tag line could be: Accept anything but mile high prices
    And then articulate its low fare and no fee stuff

  30. as an European, I think its funny and weird how in the US businesses are allowed to directly trash their competitors in ads

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