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POTOMAC PLACE

The Preferred Seat Cover

 

Stewart Greene, one of the founders of the highly successful Madison Avenue advertising agency, Wells, Rich, & Greene, died this month at the age of 91. The commercials created by the firm were catchy and resulted in record sales of the products pitched, such as Alka-Seltzer, Samsonite Luggage, and Benson & Hedges cigarettes, among others.

 

   Perhaps the most successful campaign the firm launched was for Braniff Airlines. It involved a total remake of the airline's image, including the eye-catching redesign of the flight attendant uniforms by Emilio Pucci featuring blue, yellow, and red colors, the radical and snazzy interior design of its airplanes and the standout exterior colors of the planes. Each flight attendant wore a different colored uniform and the passenger seats were covered with different colored leather. The resulting ad campaign helped Braniff immensely. Its passenger growth was phonemical, resulting in increased flights, and considerable added revenue.  It was flying high, but unfortunately, Braniff, like other airlines, became the victim of the deregulation of the airline industry and record high jet fuel prices which made it uncompetitive, resulting in its ceasing operations on May 12, 1982. I was one of the many passengers affected that day. Fortunately, I was at Washington National Airport waiting for a flight to Austin, Texas, and was not stranded at an airport far away from home.

 

   Braniff's creative redesign and unique pizazz motivated some of its competitors, including TWA, American Airlines, and Delta to make themselves over. Among those who chose not to go that route was Eastern Airlines. Rickenbacker was reluctant to change his airline's stripes and strongly resisted efforts by his staff to do so. 

 

   Two people who recruited me to the cotton industry, General Everett R. Cook and his son Edward W. "Ned" Cook, were then serving as members of Eastern Airlines' board, headed by the famed World War I ace fighter pilot and Medal of Honor recipient, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. General Cook, also a World War I ace, served with Rickenbacker, each commanding different flight squadrons.  

 

     At lunch in Cook Industries' dining room in its Memphis headquarters a week after both Ned and his father had attended an Eastern board meeting in New York City, Ned told a group of us about Rickenbacker's reaction to a redesign proposal. As Ned told it, as the board meeting was coming to a conclusion the double doors of the room opened and a team of employees rolled a platform into the room with three rows of airline seats affixed to it. Each seat was covered in one of the airline's colors of white, light blue, and dark blue or a combination of the three colors. When the public relations director finished his presentation pushing for the interior design makeover, Rickenbacker nodded his head a few times and said, "Young man, the only thing I want to see covering those seats are assholes," and the meeting adjourned.

 

   Eastern Airlines went out of business in 1991.

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