Make Your Point!

I want to give a big round of applause to Southwest Airlines for taking a unique selling position and really driving it home. When Southwest decided to not follow all the other airlines who have crazy bag fee’s, they embarked on one of the most creative and complete campaigns I’ve witnessed in years.

Who did not laugh at the commercial showing the baggage team on the tarmac watching the plane push back saying “I’m really going to miss those bags”? They said it as if their friends were leaving them communicating the point that bags are not enemies at Southwest.

They also found a new use for caution tape by using it to define the lines at their ticket counters calling it a baggage fee free zone. Great visual for all the people flying other airlines in the terminal who were just charged $50 for their bag!

Any to really punctuate the point, they painted their carts and planes and the message could now be seen at 35,000 feet.

The important marketing lesson is to complete your campaign. Having a banner with a marketing message is not a campaign and will not get as recognized as repeating this message throughout the leasing experience. Here are some places where you should extend your message:

Welcome sign

Team buttons

Team shirts

Stickers and stamps

Napkins for hospitality (cheapest thing you can buy!)


Outreach gift

Smart poster in model (see more on the smart poster in Kate’s Great Ideas)

Flyer’s, ads, Website

While researching this topic I learned that in May 2010 Southwest completed a survey of 3900 business and leisure passengers where they could pick from 55 choices what aspect is most important to them when choosing an airline. Here are the top five “needs” for business travelers:

1. Has good safety record

2. Offers non-stop flights where I want to go

3. Has convenient flight times

4. Provides good value

5. Does not charge fees

And the top five for leisure travelers:

1) Has good safety record

2) Provides good value

3) Does not charge fees

4) Offers non-stop flights where I want to go

5) Has sales on fares

The fact that charging fees made it on the top five for business travelers is surprising to me. Most business travelers do not have to worry about the fees, since their company will pick up the charges. However, the Southwest campaign has made even the business traveler think about fee’s.

Southwest’s next step is to advertise they do not have ticket-change fees either. This won’t be as easy to get across to customers as the no bag fees. It is more obvious for a passenger to know if they have to pay for a bag. It is more difficult for passengers to know if something will come up and they will need to change their flight. Southwest feels confident they can get the message across with a series of new creative ads.

Gary Kelly, Southwest’s CEO and President, wondered out loud at their recent Media Day event, why airlines would do something passengers hate. He stated that Southwest feels lucky that almost every other airline is charging for bags and they are not.

We won’t know how successful no fees will be, but so far Southwest is reporting both growth in leisure and business travelers. I have previously stated it is not an airline’s fault for charging fees… passengers choose to pay them. If passengers are willing to pay fees, airlines will continue to charge them. If passengers rebel against the fees and choose airlines that do not charge them, you will see fees start to go away (although ticket prices will most likely go up). It is a great experiment and I think so far it is working well for Southwest.