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…
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.
When friends send you ads (update, 2022- the micros site- i5 slog is long abandoned) because they think they are “clever” - your faith is restored in our profession. Before I did a quick Google search on the ad, I already suspected it was the work of WongDoody out of Seattle. Not that it was stylistically identifiable- but because it was clearly an amazing use of a small budget to create something that was worth passing around.
That, my friends, is the mark of a great ad agency, one that understands our mantra of “It’s our job to make you more money than you pay us,” - that seems lost on many of the mega-agencies.
Here is the synopsis of the ad campaign from AdRants:
In addition to the site, the campaign also includes print, radio and a branded truck with a museum-like diorama of the road that makes stops along the highway. Brochures will also be handed out to travelers on the road convincing them Horizon Air is really the way to go. In all, it’s one of the best airline campaigns we’ve ever seen.
To briefly explain how the campaign works so well on a limited budget:
The campaign connects with consumers based on a fundamental truth: commuting by car can really suck.
The small video clips aren’t video at all- but sequential stills with a solid voice over. This saves considerable cost to the client, yet delivers a comparable effect.
The short vignettes are funny- “the suicidal marsupial, the speed bump possum” doesn’t make it into every campaign.
No matter how entertaining, the stories connect back to the consumer/commuter to parts of their regular journey in a way that almost can’t but remind them that “I could have taken the plane.”
The campaign was supported by other low budget yet highly visible media to connect to the site.
There are of course a few flaws in the strategy- one being that while the time you save from your I-5 Slog by flying over all those dead possums- you now have to deal with the TSA and their less than friendly shake downs, not having a car when you reach your destination (not as bad for destination Portland where you can find decent public transit- not good for Seattle bound folks where it’s still car culture).
From a delivery standpoint- WongDoody hasn’t made the site as search friendly as possible- and have totally failed on accessibility standards. That’s the norm for almost all agencies today. Without costing the client, Horizon Air a dime more, the site could have been built in a way that met all 508 requirements and had exactly the same effect- only being much more search and consumer friendly.
For instance, there is no way to send you a link to just one of the funny stories- like the one about the dead possum in the middle of the road. I also abhor any site that starts playing audio without specific instructions for it to- just in case I’m looking at something somewhere where I shouldn’t be (like watching this at work).
All that aside, working with a smaller creative shop like Wong Doody can definitely get a client much better results than working with a mega agency. Not only is the work top-notch and yet affordable, they are genuinely nice people as I remember setting an appointment with Pat Doody on my last visit to Seattle on a moments notice.
So, next time you are looking for a big bang for a smaller budget- look to agencies that deliver high value concept- not high dollar production expenses. Making your advertising budget work hard is the mark of a true hot creative shop, and when that happens- friends and strangers will start sending out emails about your last campaign calling it clever.
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