Southwest Targets Tomorrow's Professionals Via Games

southweat airlinesSouthwest Airlines is thinking ahead. The progressive carrier that built its 37-year-old business on affordable flights and customer service has signed on to sponsor the Midnight Gaming Championship (MGC) 2008 video gaming season to capture mindshare from tomorrow's professionals, now ages 16 through 25.

The "Southwest Airlines Ultimate Gamer" promotion and MGC sponsorship speak to young adults and gaming enthusiasts--a demographic far removed from the traditional frequent business traveler that Southwest typically targets with low airfares and timely plane departures and arrivals.

The marketing message tied to the sponsorship focuses on educating consumers about several Southwest services such as the downloadable computer desktop widget "Ding" that offers exclusive fares on flights; along with the company's weekly email, Click 'n' Save, that reaches 6.9 million subscribers; and Rapid Rewards.



Another perk for Southwest: the sponsorship drives traffic to the airline's Web site,, where gamers must register to participate. Tom Lyons, online promotions specialist at Southwest Airlines, hopes that consumers will check out weekly specials and perks while on the site. For instance, at a time when carriers like American Airlines choose to charge consumers to check luggage, Southwest's Web site promotes freedom from fees by offering two checked bags, window or aisle seats and curbside check-in for free.

"We like the audience and passion for video games and that the events are held at McDonald's and Wal-Mart in some of our focus markets like Denver," Lyons says. "The amount of exposure to young adults for the investment makes sense."

Southwest's decision to reach out to video gamers represents a long-term investment in the brand--a strategy not all companies can afford to do because many want to see a return on investment tomorrow, according to Irvine Clarke III, professor and head of the marketing department at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.

"The challenge is that many things will happen between now and the time when this generation reaches the age to frequently travel," Clarke says. "Their memory of this brand will erode throughout the years, so you continually have to remind them, but you can build loyalty if you start early because it becomes part of their natural choice set."

Clarke says automotive manufacturers Toyota and Chevrolet are notorious for marketing to children through toy cars, which continue to reinforce the brands throughout their lives.

Southwest will rely on MGC and producer Affinity Sports & Entertainment Marketing to promote and publicize the games. Local radio stations and newspapers in the towns where the games take place will run advertisements as tournaments make their way through the country.

The 2008 MGC games are held under a tent in the parking lot of numerous McDonald's and Wal-Mart locations around the country. The 34 tournaments this year kick off in Houston and Oklahoma City on July 12, followed by Salt Lake City and Dallas in August, and Lubbock, Texas, in September with more locations to come through Oct. 17.

Two grand-prize winners each receive two roundtrip tickets on Southwest to Las Vegas, tickets to the video game awards, a Sony PlayStation 3, a Microsoft Xbox and a Nintendo Wii.

For sponsorships, Southwest Airlines invested $200,601 in 2006; $246,842 in 2007; and $90,316 between January and March this year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The research firm says that overall, the carrier spent $180 million in 2006; nearly $172 million in 2007, and $55.3 million year-to-date in 2008 on advertising.

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