United & Continental Airlines Merger & The New Airline Branding

Rather than be an analyst regarding the United Airlines & Continental Airlines merger, and address United Airlines’ failed merger talks with US Airways in an attempt to draw Continental Airlines into merger talks; the fluctuating stock values of both airlines; fleet commonality issues; the incompatibility between fleet engine types, the Department of Justice approval process … and the impact to passengers … I’d like to focus on the branding of the combined United Airlines – Continental Airlines.

The combined airline will utilize the United Airlines name, yet strangely the aircraft will adopt the Continental Airlines livery.

While United Airlines and Continental Airlines are calling this a “merger of equals” the use of the Continental Airlines paint scheme, blue tail with gold globe and lettering fonts with the word “United” is a poor choice.

Why is the combining of the United Airlines name and Continental Airlines branding a poor choice? Because it is confusing to passengers. If the two airlines are to merge and create one new brand existence under the United Airlines name the company should develop an entirely new branding scheme.

As customers become further aware of the merging of Continental Airlines with United Airlines the focus should allow for the history of both airlines to be present, but the emphasis should be on the creation of the new airline and what that new airline offers passengers. Continental Airlines is soon to be extinct and holding onto the Continental Airlines paint scheme on planes and the ‘Golden Globe” in a sea of blue is a mistake.

Airlines change branding and aircraft liveries every few years for marketing purposes (with limited exceptions, such as American Airlines‘ distinctive look of its aircraft), and the soon to be “New United Airlines” needs to create a new brand identity.

The “New United Airlines” will become the largest airline on the planet, with substantial service throughout North America, Europe, South America, Asia and the Pacific, and mixing and matching of airline branding, holding onto one airline’s name and the branding of the other airline does not instill a sense of moving forward and an eye on the future. In fact, mixing and matching of the airline brands seems more like a clash of corporate culture and a battle for internal dominance before the merger is even legally allowed to proceed.

So, as a traveler who has flown with both United Airlines and Continental Airlines extensively throughout he United States and crossed both the Atlantic and the Pacific with both airlines I’d like to say the following…

… congratulations … and please go back to the drawing board and choose a better branding scheme. Might I suggest “Varney Airways”?

Before you laugh at the Varney Airways suggestion, both airlines share the same founder. Water T. Varney. Varney founded Varney Air Lines in 1926, which would become United Airlines and later founded Varney Speed Lines in 1931, which would later become Continental Airlines.

I look forward to flying with the New United Airlines … just as soon as they decide on a better aircraft livery.

Below is a graphic of the New United Airlines aircraft livery.

Happy Flying!



  1. While I’m sure there is some way they could take the UA tulip and mash it up with the CO globe and make it look good, I hope you’re not saying that you’re going to avoid Uninental until they get a better graphic designer on the job. Are you?

  2. It’s a horrible branding strategy. Incredibly confusing and really not advantageous to anyone. It suggest serious rifts in corporate culture to come. Have any of the prior mergers completely eliminated the purchase brand? No. They certainly have not tried to make some awkward hybrid. I say retain the tulip and the united brand in its entirety. The airline just implemented a new livery no more than 5 years ago. I think this shows how strong a role Continental is playing in all of this. We’ll see if the employees are okay with it. My experience with airlines is that they are very loyal to their club. This could be a bloody battle of frontline employees. Watch to see how much United employees in the front lines try to stymie the progressive implementation of the globe branding strategy. I have a feeling that this fight is not over. I think both companies tried to set this in stone before the announcement to avoid any contention but that may have the opposite effect.

  3. United’s tulip in red and blue are certainly more of a cultural icon than Continental’s boring globe and drab colors. With three decades behind it, the UAL logo simply has seniority here. And yes, this will only confound the brand if they take on the word ‘united’ to Continental’s brand. Continental already eliminated one Saul Bass creation; they aim to do it again.

  4. Here’s some breaking news that puts the United Continental rebranding effort into perspective:

    Nike, Adidas Agree to Combine
    $20 Billion Deal to Create Global Athletic Apparel Behemoth.

    Nike and Adidas on Monday announced a $20 billion merger that would create the world’s largest athletic apparel maker. The all-stock deal would form a worldwide behemoth with a leading presence in the top domestic and international markets, reaching every continent on the globe including a small presence on Antarctica.

    Nike is buying Adidas, and the combined company will keep the Nike name and be based in Portland, Oregon. It will, however, keep the iconic Adidas logo, and three-stripe design recognized the world over. When asked why the Nike logo was dropped, Nike CEO and founder Phil Knight replied: “Honestly there wasn’t much debate. When you’re trying to get a merger done in a week, you have to make some concessions. It was either keep the Nike swoosh, or my corporate jet perks. Besides, the company will still be called Nike; it will just look, act and feel like Adidas.

    Marketing industry professionals wholeheartedly agreed with the decision. “When you have a brand as strong as Adidas, it’s really a no brainer to keep their logo,” said Dan Wieden, the president of Nike’s long time ad agency, Wieden & Kennedy. Adidas marketing chief Gunter Strauss added: “When you see the Nike swoosh logo, the word ‘hack’ comes to mind. We want people to respect the new Nike, and the best way to accomplish that is to forget about Nike’s numerous marketing blunders over the past four decades. Frankly, it’s a wonder the Nike brand survived this long with strange obtuse marketing messages like ‘Just do it.’ What does that even mean? Consumers respond to concrete taglines, like: ‘Run hard. Buy right’”.

    Herbert Hainer, 57 years old, and Mr. Knight, 72, who would become the non-executive chairman of the combined company, touted the deal Monday as competitive because the apparel makers’ shoe lines are complementary, with no international overlaps and only a few domestic overlaps. “Nike makes shoes for urban American basketball thugs, Adidas makes shoes for Euro soccer freaks. It’s a perfect fit,” said Hainer. Investors seemed to like the plan, details of which have been leaking out almost since the two companies initiated talks April 9. On Monday afternoon, Nike shares were up 2.5% to $77.86 and Adidas shares gained 2.5% to $29.93.

  5. I’m disappointed about the choice of branding for some of the reasons mentioned above, but also because like one person already said, the color scheme is boring. Not only that, but compared to the recently redone United branding, Continental has maintained this drab scheme for too many years now, and it shows. There is a distinct 80s look to it which in 2010, needs a makeover regardless. Something that didn’t do away with Saul Bass’s logo would be a better idea, its a strong brand that people have come to know far more than the grays and whites of Continental.

  6. CONGRATS! A great article. I completely agree. I believe that they should have dropped the United name, and go for “Continental”, which has a better image, and has a more “global” and “less national” feel to it. Nevertheless, the branding should have been changed to give the sense of “moving forward and evolving” as you said.
    It seems to me as a rush recycling of what they had.

  7. Yeh…..Well, NIKE just did the SAME-thing!
    Nike& Addidas Merging to become ‘the Worlds Largest’!…..Using Nike Name – Addidas Icon!!!
    …..who knew! They ‘JUST DID-it’!
    Bahahaha! NOW – don’t JUDGE! Good Companies are made of Good People!….I’m Proud to be from CONTINENTAL!

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