Airlines Are Not Marketing Even If They Think They Are

David Kiley

I've been struck lately by the 'feel good' ads by airlines that I've seen. UNited has been running an update of its George Gershwin music themed spots with interesting pen-drawing animation. Delta has recently kicked off a new campaign, themed "Good Goes Around." American has been running sentimental TV ads with the slogan, "We Know Why You Fly."

Each time one of these spots comes on, I think to myself, "Who the heck is choosing an airline based on any of this?" Frequent business travelers are pretty much choosing airlines based on where their frequent flyer miles are and schedule. Consumers are, for the most part, choosing based on where their frequent flyer miles are (that they collect through their jobs) and price. The typical leisure traveler these days is checking online via Orbitz, Expedia or one of the other services for prices and schedules. When the selection of options comes up from United, Northwest, Delta, American, Air France, Virgin Atlantic--how many people are choosing based on how they feel about the airline?

Delta is spending about $30 million this year in their effort. When I saw the ad the other night, I had no idea who or what the ad could be for until the Delta logo flashed at the end. Would that $30 million allow Delta to buy down fares enough to make the difference? Probably not. Still, I have to wonder what they think they are spending their money on.

In United's case, the ads are pleasing to hear and watch. But back to the Internet pricing tango. It's not tipping the scales for anyone I have ever met cross shopping flight schedules and prices.

The airline industry has literally fought for deregulation that has made each company nothing more than a commodity. By constructing a screwy fare and route structure that has, for example, fares out of New York's LaGuardia routinely half the price of fares out of Newark International, and routes that require two and three hour layovers in secondary flight markets, they have achieved almost total parity. United=Delta=American=Northwest=Continental. Until you can figure out a way to bust that business model, save the money you are spending on image ads and give it to your employees. Maybe they will treat us a little nicer if they are paid better.

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