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Airlines Are Taking to Airwaves to Eliminate Public's Reservations

October 13, 1987|BRUCE HOROVITZ

The Continental breakfast is usually served at dinner. Continental Airline executives were not humored by that kind of one-line gag earlier this year. After all, during the period between January and March, Continental's on-time performance ranked near the very bottom of the airline heap.

And after a series of widely reported in-flight miscues that became great fodder for David Letterman monologues, the Delta Airlines ad slogan, "Delta Gets You There With Care," began to sound more like something that liar Joe Isuzu would promise--with a wink.

Now, both of these airlines--along with most of the other major air carriers--are trying to advertise their way out of the mess. With viewers of the heavily watched fall TV season as the prime lure, the airlines are pumping record hundreds of millions of dollars into ads that apologize to the flying public and assure them that the skies are not only friendly once again, but also extremely businesslike. In fact, virtually every major air carrier has stopped talking about low fares and started bragging about improved service.

"The most important travelers are the business travelers, and last thing in the world that they care about is saving a few bucks on an airplane," said Herbert J. Teison, editor of the Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.-based newsletter, Travel Smart. "All they want is to get to their destination on time."

Not coincidentally, these service-oriented ad campaigns have taken to the airwaves within days of a recent ruling by the Department of Transportation that, beginning late next week, will require all airlines to report flight delays of more than 15 minutes to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"There have been so many different airline-related problems," said Jane Levere, managing editor of Frequent Flyer, a New York-based publication, "that the airlines have been forced to start explaining in their advertising how they're going to solve them."

Some of the airlines that have been plagued by problems are virtually begging the public's forgiveness--and promising far better things ahead. "With all the evidence in hand," said Jim O'Donnell, vice president of marketing for Continental, "we felt the public was entitled to an apology. This is an exercise in corporate candor."

That candor became evident a few weeks ago when Continental began to run ads in major newspapers that confessed, in no uncertain terms, that it had been doing a pretty lousy job. "We Were Once Called the Proud Bird. Lately, They've Been Calling Us Other Names," said the headline to the ad that was signed by the Continental Chairman Frank Lorenzo.

Meanwhile, Delta is also hyping its service under the new theme, "We love to fly and it shows." The ads show Delta employees rushing off to help customers who are wheelchair-bound or who have forgotten their briefcases. Some industry critics say that instead of airing these ads, the airlines should instead explain how it is solving its more pressing problems--like that of the Delta jet that plunged to within 600 feet of the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles, or Delta jets that have landed on the wrong runways. "Any time you put new advertising out in the marketplace," said Judy Jordan, Delta's director of advertising, "there are some folks who won't like it."

Even giant United Airlines--which spends about $70 million annually in advertising--is suddenly talking about passenger service in its advertising. "The whole airline industry," explained Bill Alenson, director of advertising, "has an image now that its service has gone to hell in a hand basket."

Is Jessica Hahn Next in Line to Get the Blues?

Now that Jessica "I am not a bimbo" Hahn has all but advertised parts of her anatomy in the November issue of Playboy, will she pull a Donna Rice and become a huckster for the likes of blue jeans?

"If there's a door that's open, I'll consider walking though it," said Hahn in an interview at the Bel Age hotel late last week. "But right now, there is nothing planned." Hahn's attorney has been contacted by dozens of companies--including some Japanese manufacturers. "I've been so busy," she said, "that we haven't even discussed most of the offers yet.

"I'd rather be identified with something positive--perhaps some sort of product--than continue to be identified with the PTL Club scandal," Hahn said. "I want to turn this into something positive if it kills me."

Meanwhile, her November interview and photos in Playboy have meant a bonanza to the Chicago-based magazine. Ad pages were up 18% in the November issue, compared to last year's November issue, said Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises. What's more, sales of the issue are expected to exceed 5.3 million compared to the usual 3.4 million, Hefner said.

Has Playboy taken advantage of Hahn? Hefner bristles at the question. "Jessica used the magazine--and I mean that in a positive way--to tell her story," said Hefner. "Our business is to bring to our readers subjects that are of interest. And this certainly is of interest."

$28 Billion Hiding in Far East, Down Under

There's $28 billion worth of advertising that many West Coast ad agencies are ignoring.

That is the amount spent overseas annually in Pacific Basin countries by advertisers, said Brian Monahan, the Aussie chairman of Australia's largest ad agency, MOJO MDA. "There isn't a serious commentator in the world who wouldn't agree the Asian Pacific is where the action is," Monahan said to 400 delegates attending the Western Region Convention of the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies.

"You people on the West Coast are in a perfect position to exploit this," he told ad executives at the plush Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel. Certainly, his agency, with worldwide billings of $300 million, hasn't ignored it. After all, it was MOJO that created the popular ad slogan for the Australian Tourist Commission that has been much mimicked, but never yet with Paul Hogan's sizzle--"Put another shrimp on the barbie."

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