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Why United-Continental's Bizarre New Mashup Logo Is a Work of Genius

United Continental Holdings (UAL), the post-merger holding company for United Airlines and Continental, is rolling out an unusual and inventive rebranding across its entire network that is confounding just about everyone who sees it: It's keeping Continental's "globe" logo and pairing it with the United name. Initially the new company kept the word "United" in Continental's old typeface (Perpetua Bold, font geeks).

Later, it changed the text to just "United," in a sans-serif font.* The result is that nothing has changed even though, on both sides of the new company, everything has changed.

At Brand New, a design blog read widely in the ad biz, art directors seem to hate it. Two of 178 comments under an article about the new marque said:

I have but three words to describe this: Buh. Ru. Tal.

I work for an airline and the most common phrase used yesterday to describe this identity blend was simply "bizarre."

Companies almost never do this. Interestingly, many commenters regard the new "mashup" logo as either an artless compromise by managers who don't care about design or a stop-gap measure before a magnificent new rebranding is launched.

Given that UAL has thus far repainted 40 percent of its 1,300 aircraft with the new livery, I'd say it's permanent. The move was announced months ago; the company is just now replacing signage at its hubs in Houston and Newark, N.J.

I'd also argue that it's fantastic, and that the reason art directors hate it is because it works perfectly without the need for any new art directors.

Why shouldn't a merged company literally merge its existing logo with its existing name? If you're looking for merger synergies, that's one right there: No need for an expensive and wasteful rebranding, which would by definition produce an unfamiliar brand with no built-in equity. All the typefaces, iconography and graphic assets are already owned by the new company. No need to hire a dozen or so marketing services agencies to "relaunch" and introduce the company to its own consumers.

In a year, it will all look like unremarkable wallpaper. No one will care. That will actually be an advantage for UAL, because the logistics of the merger -- smushing together its maintenance staff, flight crews, labor agreements, reservations systems, sales, passenger tracking, and websites into a single operation -- could use as little drama as possible.

*This item originally said that the redesign utilized "United" in Continental's corporate font. Initially, the companies did just that, and then changed it again to the sans-serif font. Apologies for the error -- which, frankly, is entirely the fault of UAL and its inability to pick a font and stick with it.

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