Jingle: United “Fly the Friendly Skies” (1965)
“Fly the Friendly Skies” is without question the best-known airline tagline of all time, and it oughta be. United used it for more than 30 years.
That in itself is rare. Even rarer is the fact that for all those years, United employed the same advertising agency: Leo Burnett, Chicago.
Burnett was United’s agency from 1965 to 1996. In advertising, that’s ages, especially now, when agency relationships tend to last only a few years. Certainly not decades. And airline accounts have historically been particularly fickle.
Consider that in the entire time Burnett served as United’s only agency, Pan Am went through several: J. Walter Thompson; Ally & Gargano; N. W. Ayer; Doyle Dane Bernbach; Wells Rich Greene; Della Femina, McNamee WCRS; and… well, oblivion. TWA went from Foote, Cone & Belding to Wells Rich Greene to Ogilvy & Mather to Young & Rubicam to Avrett, Free & Ginsberg to Backer Spielvogel Bates to D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles.
The jingle you can listen to here is taken from a record produced by Leo Burnett to celebrate the 15th year of the relationship. And that wasn’t even the halfway point.
Burnett’s tenure was not only long, but productive. To my mind, they produced some of the best airline advertising ever for United. The line, “fly the friendly skies,” has all the folksiness Leo Burnett is famous for. In print and on television, United’s advertising tended to tell stories about passengers: a kid’s first trip to New York, or a cowboy flying for the first time. It never failed to make the airline seem genuinely friendly.
The longevity of “fly the friendly skies” is also a testament to the mnemonic power of jingles. In the later 1960s, United’s commercials often featured a popular song (John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me,” “Let’s Get Away From it All”) rearranged to include “fly the friendly skies of United” at the end. The commercials could therefore be very different, and still be connected by a very strong brand. Later campaigns varied the tune, and even the wording, but the “friendly skies” endured until 1996.
Airline: United Airlines
Title: “Fly the Friendly Skies”
Agency: Leo Burnett, Chicago
Written By: Don Tennant1
Year: 1965 (this version rerecorded in 1978)
Fly the friendly skies…
Fly the friendly skies…
Fly the friendly skies of United.
Updated June 10, 2013: Corrected the “written by” credit.
- Don Tennant is widely credited with writing the line “Fly the friendly skies.” I have been unable to determine if he wrote the music as well; it seems entirely possible, as he had many roles at the agency. If he didn’t, it might have been Dick Marx or Frank Gari. [↩]