Commentary

Southwest Challenges Industry With 'Transfarency' Ads, Microsite

Calling for “transfarency,” a new Southwest Airlines ad campaign flies squarely into the prevailing winds of its competitors’ penchant for squeezing a buck out of just about every passenger touchpoint. “Transfarency means we don’t dream up ways we can trick you into paying more,” says the voiceover on the first :30. “Low fares. Nothing to hide. That's Transfarency,” is the tagline.

“I don't suspect I'll get many holiday cards from the competition this year,” CMO Kevin Krone said Thursday at Southwest's media day in Houston, reportsThe Arizona Republic’s Dawn Gilbertson in USA Today.

Southwest, “the top hauler of domestic passengers and the No. 4 U.S. airline by traffic,” said the campaign will appear on TV, in print and digitally, Susan Carey writes for the Wall Street Journal

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“Krone did not disclose how much the airline is spending on the campaign aside from saying it was in line with what the company usually spends on its fall marketing campaign,” Andrea Ahles writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Breaking on last night’s baseball playoff telecasts, the initial ad will appear broadly during NFL games this Sunday and run nationally for 15 weeks. Three more executions are in the bank, and digital extensions on Facebook and Twitter surrounding the new campaign will be forthcoming.

Austin-based GSD&M created the spots and Razorfish created a microsite at www.transfarency.com that exposes the extra charges at competitors such as Spirit, American, United, Delta, Virgin and JetBlue. It features a “Fee or Fake” game where you can “test your knowledge of other airlines’ ridiculous fees with this 8-question quiz.” Did you know, for example, that Spirit charges $10 for an agent to print your boarding pass? Well, at least it doesn’t charge $5 to read a magazine, the alternative option in the multiple-choice quiz.

Customers also can check out ways to beat the system at various airlines. For example, “When flying Delta, ship your clothes to your destination because it might be cheaper than checking bags,” the site advises.

Passengers can tweet their own stories of outrageous fees at #FeesDon’tFly, though this morning it’s mostly filled with love for Southwest. 

That’s reflected in the airline’s recent numbers, too. Southwest reports that revenue passenger miles increased 11.4% to 9.2 billion in September, Clark Schultz reports on Seeking Alpha. Capacity rose 8.4% to 11.1 billion available seat miles in the month and the airline flew 2% more flights and saw a 2.1% gain in average length from a year ago.

“Being a low-fare airline is at the heart of our brand, and the foundation of our business model, so we’re not going to nickel and dime our customers,” says Krone in a release about the campaign. “Transfarency is not a new chapter for us, but another tone to the bell that we've been ringing for more than 44 years.”

Besides the new campaign, Southwest announced plans to roll out  new uniforms next year based on input from employees, as well as a new drinks menu that will include additional “mixed-drink options and craft beers, starting with Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest,” Sheryl Jean reports for the Dallas Morning News.

The company’s last complete uniform redo was 20 years ago, according to Teresa Laraba, Southwest’s SVP of customers. “I remember because I was wearing it,” she said, Jean reports. A photo accompanying the story shows one flight attendant wearing the proposed uniform, which is being “wear-tested,” and another in hot-pants and calf-length boots attire from the ’80s.

“The move comes a week before Southwest opens a new international concourse at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport and begins offering flights to six Latin American and Caribbean destinations from that city,” the WSJ’s Carey reports. It will fly seven daily international flights to Belize City, Belize; Cancun, Los Cabos, Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; and San Jose, Costa Rica, the Morning News’ Jean reports, and on Nov. 1, it will start to fly to Montego Bay, Jamaica, and Liberia as well.

The ad that broke last night “insists its policy of ‘transfarency’ shows Southwest's respect for its passengers,” writes Lewis Lazare for the Chicago Business Journal,  … underscoring that particular point with the line ‘we don't just fly you, we like you’” at the end.

Indeed, that, too, has been a consistent message over the years. If you want to end the week with a real tearjerker, check out this Southwest video, Hudson’s Big Day, from August: “A little boy's wave to a pilot turned into a meeting he'll never forget.”

They do do things differently down — and up — there.

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