The ad is a lie

While watching the Olympics, I was struck by a gorgeous animated ad. A lobster conducts an orchestra of other sea creatures playing Gershwin. As soon as I recognized Rhapsody in Blue, I knew it had to be a United Airlines commercial.

The beautiful ad is in stark contrast with the product being advertised. We all expect exaggeration in advertising, but for the most part the product doesn’t even exist. I’m not talking about cramped seats or the fees for everything but using the toilet; the ad is one of several new commercials for United’s new international first and business class.

United’s premium products have significantly lagged their competitors, especially when compared with foreign competitors. Virgin’s and British’s business classes are much nicer than United’s first. United’s new product is a significant step forward.

The problem is that most of United’s international fleet hasn’t been reconfigured for the new product. If you buy the advertised product, chances are you’ll get the older, vastly inferior product. According to the FlyerGuide Wiki, only 11% of the fleet has been reconfigured:

Completed aircraft: 11 out of 96
Completed B747-400s: 4 out of 29
Completed B767-300s: 7 out of 21
Completed B777-200s: 0 out of 46

Good luck getting the 180-degree flat bed seats they talk about in the Butterfly and Moondust ads. There is no way to ensure that you’ll get the new product. Veteran frequent fliers play guessing games on FlyerTalk’s United forums. While you can improve your odds based on picking the routes or studying seatmaps you’ll only know for sure when you step on the plane. There is a way to ensure that you don’t get the new product: buy a business class seat on a 777. None of those have been converted.

United deserves credit for making the ads easily available online, something more companies should do. The clip of the Heart commercial includes a “making of” commentary by Dennis Cary, United’s SVP of Marketing and behind the scenes interviews with the artists.

As art, the ads are some of the most creative and visually engaging ads I’ve seen; they’re downright stunning when viewed in HD. If they do their job and gets people on United’s planes, there’s a really good chance they won’t be crossing the oceans on United again.

Desi shoutout: According to United’s description, Moondust was animated by an Indian. “Ishu Patel, an Indian-born and Canadian-based animator, used his world-renowned back-lit technique in which a thin layer of plastic modeling clay is applied to a glass plate that has a 1000-watt light positioned beneath it and an animation camera above it.”

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About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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2 Responses to The ad is a lie

  1. Adam says:

    What’s frustrating about this delay is that the upgraded fleet — which I’ve had so far one chance to enjoy in Business Class — is surprisingly nice. The lay-flat beds are quite comfortable, the entertainment monitors pretty sizeable, and the choices of entertainment admirably broad.

    Wish they’d get their ass in gear and upgrade the planes more quickly!

  2. If you can, you’re better off booking on their codeshare partner Lufthansa. Their business class is great and there’s no guessing game as to what you’ll get. The cabin crew is better, too. And you still get United miles.

    Better yet, fly British or Virgin to Europe or Singapore or Cathay to Asia.

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