Archive for the ‘airlines’ category

British Airways: To Fly. To Serve. To Sell.

December 11th, 2011

I often criticize ads that don’t give enough prominence to the brand name.  I’ve even gone so far as to suggest that their ad agencies perhaps would rather be making movies than “mere commercials.”  These ads are often entertaining–some via humor, others via cool music or striking visuals–but they rarely do their intended job, which is to sell.

In this new “advert” from British Airways, you won’t hear the brand name a single time, and half of the logos you see are for prior generations of the company’s name (like “Imperial Airways” and “BOAC”). Yet I think this ad is one of the best ads I’ve seen this year.

So why–if I’m right–does this “advert” succeed despite breaking the rules of brand registration?  One reason is the British narrator; it’s clearly an airline ad, so once you hear that elegant British accent, you know it must be a British Airways ad. (Who else could it be?)  Another reason is that the combination of the cinematography and the background music is so engrossing that you want to pay close attention–to soak up every detail–and in the process you can’t help but notice the occasional British Airways logo on one of the many eye-catching aircraft featured later in the spot.

Yet another reason for this ad’s impact is that the beautifully written and delivered narration and the exceptional production values scream quality.  My subconscious brain can only conclude, “This airline obviously has great planes, great mechanics and great pilots.”

And finally, there’s the tagline:  “To fly.  To serve.” And this is much more than a tagline; as the narrator informs us, it’s “the same four words stitched into every uniform of every captain who takes their command.”  The message:  these people love to fly, and they love to take exquisite care of their passengers.

And they clearly love to make great advertising.

With Southwest, Bags–and Gags–Fly Free

October 6th, 2010

Today I enjoyed the services of one of my “hero companies”:  Southwest Airlines.  Hero companies are those that do virtually everything well:  great products, great service, great people, great marketing.  There aren’t many companies on the list; Apple and Starbucks are definitely on it, and so is Southwest.

Southwest is one of the most underrated businesses of all time in my opinion.  For them to be the most (and often the only) profitable airline year after year after year is nothing short of amazing, particularly when you consider that they do it despite charging extremely low fares.  I also love the fact that they’ve further separated themselves by refusing to charge for bags while their competitors nickle and dime their customers–and their brand equity–to death.

But what might best differentiate Southwest from the competition is not only the way they motivate their employees, but the way the leverage their employees’ morale to enhance the customer experience.

I shot the above photos today with my Blackberry in the jetway  of my plane as I was boarding a flight from Chicago to Denver.  The life-size photos of Southwest employees smiling and waving at you made for a very warm and surprising welcome.  And what was particularly impressive was how genuine the smile was on each and every person.  I found myself thinking, “Man, these people really love working for this company.”  And then I found myself smiling too, which is not something I’m used to doing when I board an airplane.

And it didn’t stop there.  From takeoff to landing, the flight attendants and the flight crew were engaging and smart…and very funny.  After reciting the mandatory instructions about how to use the flotation device in the event of a “water landing” (my all-time favorite euphemism, BTW), the flight attendant added, “So you can just paddle around until the Coast Guard arrives.”  He then took us through the oxygen mask drill, telling us that if you’re traveling with a child, you should put your mask on first before putting the mask on the child.  He then added, “And if you’re traveling with two children–(dramatic pause)–pick whichever one you think has the most potential.”

Both jokes were delivered with impeccable timing.  And both were non-politically correct, which fits perfectly with the image of a company whose brilliant former CEO Herb Kelleher was known for chain-smoking, swigging Wild Turkey, and publicly arm-wrestling his fellow CEOs.  This is a company with an attitude–and a very infectious one at that!

A big part of making customers loyal to your brand is getting them to think of the brand in personal terms, to feel like they know and like the people behind the brand, and to believe that those people care sincerely about their happiness.  That can be hard to pull off when you’re a manufacturer, but when you’re in the service business, you have hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of opportunities each day to have your employees build your brand equity with every customer encounter.

Unfortunately, very few service companies get that, but Southwest Airlines certainly does.  And that’s why their brand equity continues to fly as high as their shareholders equity.

Slimy Spirit Skids on an Oil Slick

June 28th, 2010

I’ve always suspected that one could make a bunch of money shorting the stocks of companies with really bad marketing, the theory being that if they’re screwing up their marketing, they’re probably screwing up a lot of other things.  I’m also thinking that a good company to put that theory to the test would be Spirit Airlines, because it would be just about impossible to screw up your marketing more than these yahoos have.

Several months ago Spirit kindly gave me fodder for a blog post after they had the idiocy to innovate the concept of charging customers for their carry-on bags.  And now, perhaps somehow determining that I was struggling for a topic for another post, they’ve deployed a new online ad campaign that exploits the tragic fate being experienced by the beaches–not to mention the people–of the Louisiana gulf.

As this Ad Age story illustrates, Spirit’s new campaign unconscionably urges viewers to “Check out the oil on our beaches,” Spirit’s “oil” being suntan lotion donned by bathing beauties on the beaches of Mexico and other locations served by Spirit.  One look at these ads raises the same question raised by Spirit’s April announcement about its carry-on fee: “Who in God’s name is  calling the shot’s at this place?!?!” Perhaps the CEO summoned his VP  of Marketing and said, “You know, I don’t think people hate us quite enough any more. I think it’s time we made fun of  the devastation happening down there in Idaho or wherever they had that oil spill thingy.”

I should caution you that I’m not an investment expert, so you probably should think twice about following my advice about shorting Spirit’s stock. In the same spirit of full disclosure, I’m not an aviation expert–but I don’t expect to be boarding any planes bearing the Spirit logo any time soon.

KLM Publicity Stunt Pure Magic

June 15th, 2010

Recently, KLM launched their new Economy Comfort seating in an extremely creative way: by having Dutch levitation guru Ramana perform a magical stunt at major airports served by the airline.  Check out this hard-to-believe video.

As impressive as the video is–and I suspect that millions of people will eventually view it–think how impressive it must have been for the hundreds of thousands of people who saw the stunt in person!  And keep in mind that almost half of those people just got off an airplane that gave them a fraction of the legroom being demonstrated by Ramana.

The impact of a marketing message is often due as much to the environment in which the message is received as to the message itself.  In this case, the marriage of message and environment could not have been more perfect–or more magical!

That’s the Spirit…NOT!!!

April 7th, 2010

Spirit Airlines will go down in PR history for making one of the all-time moronic marketing moves:  announcing that it plans to charge passengers up to $45 for each article of carry-on luggage.  The story has been featured prominently today on virtually every national, regional and local television news program, and it will certainly be covered extensively on every other news medium in the country over the next 24-to-48 hours.

Never mind that Spirit offers extremely reasonable airfares; the company will henceforth be known as the jerks who dreamed up the idea of charging for carry-ons, and possibly for giving many other airlines an excuse to do the same thing.  (I say “possibly” because the public outcry has been great enough that other airlines may decline to follow suit.)   I suspect that much of the population had never heard of Spirit before, but they certainly know them now.

I certainly understand that most airlines are in severe financial trouble and need to find new ways to eke out a profit, but Spirit couldn’t have landed on worse solution.  Every consumer I’ve seen interviewed–as well as many of the anchorpeople reporting the news –are absolutely outraged at this decision.  After all, carry-ons have helped us avoid four major hassles associated with flying–damaged luggage, lost luggage, time wasted at the baggage claim, and fees for checking luggage–and now Spirit has the audacity to mess with this.

If Spirit wanted to enhance their revenues, they should have silently raised their airfares, which they could have done without jeopardizing their positioning as one of the lowest-cost airlines.  Few people would have noticed, and it certainly wouldn’t have been headline news.  And had United, American or some other larger competitor decided to test the waters of charging for carry-on luggage, Spirit could have gauged the public’s reaction before deciding whether to follow suit.

But now Spirit has taken a huge, self-inflicted hit to its brand equity, a hit from which it may never fully recover.

It’s great to innovate, but your innovations should be based on things you hope your customers will love rather than ones you know they’re going to hate.  In other words, you have to be smart enough to recognize an idea that isn’t going to fly–and especially one that’s going to crash and burn.