Hot McGarryBowen lands $100 million United account

McGarryBowen’s new business bonanza continued Wednesday.  The agency’s New York office won the high-profile and prestigious United Airlines advertising account.  According to a United spokesman, MB’s Chicago office, the agency’s only outpost beyond New York, may be used for meetings on occasion.

But the MB agency team attached to the United account will be based in New York. United, which is headquartered in Chicago, is expected to break its first ad campaign from McGarry at a yet-to-be-determined date in 2012.  

McGarry triumphed over two other finalists in the review, Arnold Worldwide and TBWA/Chiat/Day, famously known as the agency that works on the Apple account.

McGarry now is charged with the huge task of helping Chicago-based United —- a markedly changed carrier from just a year ago —- succeed in an exceedingly difficult, volatile climate for all airlines.

“Selecting a new long-term partner with the depth, expertise and passion to help us advance the United brand is one of the most important marketing decisions we have made since closing the merger of United and Continental,” said Mark Bergsrud, United’s senior vice-president of marketing.

The United review, which began in the spring, started with eight shops in contention for the ad account. The review was narrowed to just the three finalists, who made final presentations last month.

MB a hot shop with several recent big account wins

The United ad business, believed to be worth upwards of $100 million in billings, is but the latest of several big wins for MB. Earlier this year the shop also landed the Sears branding work previously handled by Young & Rubicam/Chicago, as well as the Burger King business snapped up from Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Since McGarryBowen opened its Chicago outpost (the agency’s only office beyond New York) some four years ago in a tiny space in the West Loop, it has, to the surprise of some observers, managed to establish itself as the city’s hottest new business shop.

In addition to now handling the Sears business, MB’s Chicago shop has become a major Kraft Foods roster agency over the past couple of years. The Disney theme parks business also is handled out of MB’s Chicago office.

United’s choice of McGarryBowen comes just 10 months after United merged with Houston-based Continental Airlines. That merger has prompted a number of changes in United’s marketing strategy as Bergsrud, a former Continental marketing honcho, has taken the marketing reins at the new United Airlines.

 BDM, United’s previous agency, will be remembered for fresh approaches

New York-based Kaplan Thaler Group, Continental’s longtime agency of record, served as United’s interim ad agency in the months after the merger.

The merger also formally ended United’s affiliation with the Barrie D’Rozario Murphy agency in Minneapolis, which had been United Airline’s agency of record dating back to early 2007.

Still, history will take note of what BDM did for the pre-merger United during some of the carrier’s darkest days as it weathered financial turmoil and employee unrest and struggled mightily to regain the confidence of travelers.

BDM will forever be remembered for giving United some of the finest print and television advertising ever seen in the airline category, most of it with the “It’s Time to Fly” tag line.

The seeds of that exquisite, story-driven campaign were actually sewn at Fallon/Minneapolis, where BDM founders Stuart D’Rozario and Bob Barrie formerly worked. The two ad execs formed their own shop in late 2006, and took on the United account from their previous employer.

Among BDM’s many achievements for United was “Sea Orchestra,” a richly-detailed animated TV spot that featured a full orchestra of sea creatures playing United’s signature “Rhapsody in Blue” theme music. The commercial was showcased during the Beijing Olympics.

Only British Airways, back in the 1980’s, had advertising as spectacular and breakthrough as the illustration-driven work BDM did for United.

The interim United advertising from Kaplan Thaler has been fairly basic stuff, primarily pushing the theme that United is now a much larger carrier serving many more destinations. Nothing fancy. Very down to earth.

And that is just the way Continental Airlines liked to market itself before it merged with United. “Work Hard. Fly Right,” Continental’s marketing tag line for many years, sort of said it all.

The new United quite possibly could adopt a similar tack with McGarryBowen on board.

Indeed, McGarryBowen CEO John P. McGarry stuck to the basics (with a bit of a lyrical twist) Wednesday in welcoming the agency’s newest marketing partner: “We are honored to have the opportunity to help define the new United — a company born from two world-class airlines with great heritage and heart — for its customers and employees.”

Yes, let the flying — and the defining — begin.

Contact Lewis Lazare at