Imagine your company gets swallowed up by a larger competitor. I know, that will never happen to you, but, when was the last time you went to a locally owned bank, a hospital that wasn’t part of a network, or checked into a hotel that wasn’t part of a conglomerate?

The New York Times wrote about Virgin Airlines customers lamenting the loss of the Virgin brand personality when Alaska Airlines finishes the takeover- the comments, the insight into what made Virgin flights different, coming from customers are a lesson for brand marketers:

“I like Alaska, I don’t love Alaska. But I love Virgin,” she said. “I think of it as a young, hip airline. Alaska is more of a friendly aunt.”

Travelers like Ms. Bansal are wondering what to expect from Virgin America under its new parent company: skinny jeans and stilettos, or sweatshirts and sneakers. After all, Alaska started in 1932 with a single three-seat plane owned by an Anchorage furrier, while Virgin America was founded by a flashy British billionaire less than a decade ago with a goal of restoring glamour to flying…

Although Alaska has been a perennial leader in best-airline rankings, its allure comes more from its reliability than mood lighting or funny safety videos. Like Virgin America, it inspires loyalty among customers, if not the same passion….

Alaska and Virgin have been ranked first and second in operational performance in a top industry list for two straight years, and Virgin America is a mainstay atop Travel & Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler’s readers’ choice rankings of the top domestic airlines…

“I always liked @alaskaair but I hope they learn how to fly like @VirginAmerica, which I #love,” @salsop posted.

Source: Virgin America Fans Ask if Alaska Airlines Takeover Will Mean Loss of Cool

If you have any question about why Virgin will be missed. Think back to the last time the safety video came on while you are crammed into coach. Did you want to watch it again? When Virgin did their inflight safety video, it had 5.8 million views on YouTube  (in a dozen days) – by people, not strapped into their seats.

What’s interesting is that both Virgin and Alaska have worked with some superstar ad shops. Virgin with Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Alaska with WongDoody.

Note the origin stories for both airlines in the NYT piece- Richard Branson, the “flashy British billionaire” started an airline to “restore glamour to flying” as opposed to getting people from point a to point b. Maybe this is why Virgin is becoming another casualty of consolidation, but it shouldn’t be a deterrent to doing things differently than your competition.

For a while, it seemed like Apple wasn’t going to make it, but, now, even though it doesn’t have anywhere near a majority of the computers running their operating systems, they are doing quite well as the worlds most valuable company- in the mobile operating system space. They also were known to use a superstar ad shop- and the campaign that’s credited with turning them around- was “Think Different.”

Virgin thought different about air travel, and unfortunately isn’t going to stay with us- but, don’t let that dishearten you, is it better to go down with a crowd of fervent followers, or quietly and not really be missed? You decide.

Hopefully Alaska Airlines will try to assimilate the Virgin culture and attitude, so that when they get gobbled up, we end up with at least one airline you can love for more than cheap, easy or their frequent flyer program.