United + Continental branding: it’s a midair mishmash.

The brand mark that was quickly trotted out to merchandise the merger of United Airlines with Continental is one of the most ham-handed executions we’ve ever seen, ever.  And the rationale — or lack thereof — behind it is indictable as totally shortsighted and ill-founded.  

Not only is it is just bad from a basic design standpoint, it’s also actually done the exact opposite of what a good brand, transitional or permanent, is supposed to achieve, especially with regard to your stakeholders and internal audiences.

We have our contacts and friends in the UA community, being located in Chicago, and the message this logo sends to that community isn’t a good one.

First of all: from a design standpoint, the mark looks extremely hastily-kludged and unpolished — obviously contrived to meet the deadline of a press conference and announcement to the markets.  They quickly blenderized the UA name with the Continental logo, achieving a result that’s not even a pale imitation of either.

By taking the well-established and elegant United signature and mark and visually suborning it to the semi-serif font and globe that are Continental style points, it makes it almost seem as though United was the one who got absorbed by the (slightly) smaller outfit.  That’s because of the priorities that a brand’s visual cues establish with the reader.

The excuse you may hear is, “it’s transitional,” that it’s a temporary expedient.  But that logic doesn’t take into account the power of branding to create positive or negative impact, especially when you’re talking about brands as pervasive as those of airlines — which are, after all, seen nearly everywhere thanks to some of the most massive campaigns in marketing, aside from how they’re billboarded on thousands of aircraft.

Brands — even “transitional” ones — arouse reactions. In a situation like this, running out a poorly-considered, unpolished logo for the sake of a temporary Web site and a photo op has sent dismissive messages to employees and supporters of the companies that are merging: that heritage, tradition and culture, summed up in two pretty good corporate identities, are transitory and disposable.

The best counsel they could have followed? Don’t march out a transitional brand mark at all. A banal typographic signature would have been enough for PR purposes.  It wasn’t critical, in this situation, to have a logo immediately in hand.  And by delaying the debut of a fleshed-out new identity, a smart marketer can build another round of buzz and anticipation.

Make it clear to everybody — especially the troops — that the final corporate culture, as evoked by the brand mark, is going to be a product of careful deliberation and process — and so will the branding that communicates it to the world.  The implication that this is a taste of the final branding is doing far, far more harm than good.

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