Air Canada's Olympic Ads Work, United's Don't

Last Updated Aug 12, 2008 10:47 AM EDT

I love the summer Olympics. Ever since I first attended them as a child growing up in LA, I've looked forward to them every four years. This time around, I'm excited to be able to watch a ton of coverage online, but most people, of course, still watch it on television. For that reason, Olympic advertising is a fairly big deal because you can reach a large number of people in a "feel-good" setting. United and Air Canada are both official Olympic sponsors in their own home countries, so they've got ads running during the event. While Air Canada has done a good job with theirs, United's leave something to be desired.

Let's start with Air Canada. The airline has put out three spots (view their Olympic ads here) that try to make the emotional connection between the employees of Air Canada and the Canadian Olympic athletes. They use real employees in the spots, and they do a good job of featuring the onboard product. You see the big TVs flicker to life in the coach seats, for example. Another shot shows an employee reclining the business class seats into a flat bed. It was a good way to blend the Olympics with their product, and it leaves a good impression on both counts.

Then there's United. The airline has continued its theme of elaborate animated commercials set to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with five more spots. Some of these are downright bizarre (Sea Orchestra) while other ones are at best only slightly abstract. I understand the airline is going for this deep emotional connection with a well-produced spot, but for me, it misses completely, despite the technical achievement.

Some of United's spots mention at the very end that they have new business and first class seats with flat beds. Well, they don't show you the seat at any point, even though that's what people would want to see. And even if they did show it, they fail to mention that the new seats are on a very small percentage of the fleet right now so your chances of getting it are relatively slim. The airline once again seems to overpromise and will mostly likely underdeliver until the product can be rolled out on more of the fleet.

But that's a minor nit anyway. The spots may try to create an emotional connection, but that's not what airlines need. At a time where the travel experience is changing dramatically toward an a la carte style, passengers need to have their expectations set properly instead of being overinflated. United missed on that count while Air Canada does not.