Three cheers for Verizon.

I LOVE the new spot that Verizon has launched to introduce its marriage with iPhone 4.  It’s honest.  It’s simple.  And it resonates in a way that many other strategies may have missed.

For a long time, Verizon has been poking fun at iPhone, mostly because of its alliance with the AT&T network.  By mocking the rival network, it invariably knocked the phone.  The best example of this is the “Island of Misfit Toys” spot it ran more than a year ago.  Funny.  And smart.  And a great way to make the points about the phones you CAN get on Verizon’s network.

But now, the hatchet is buried.  The bygones have gone by.  And the tone is spot-on.  Using a series of images of clocks ticking and fingers tapping and eyes shifting, the spot creates tension focused on “waiting.”  The voiceover begins by addressing the audience directly: “To our millions of customers, who never stopped believing this day would come…THANK YOU.”

Cheer #1:  Good strategic approach.
How smart is this strategy?  No attacks on the “other” network.  No knocks on the device.  No more touting OTHER phone’s app capacities.  Just a simple, singular message that affectionately bonds the two companies.

Cheer #2:  Truthfulness.
The spot gets honest, and does it elegantly.  It essentially ADMITS that (despite its efforts to sell you a zillion other devices,) Verizon customers have wanted THIS phone all along.

Cheer #3:  Bonding with customers.
What’s more impactful than saying “thank you?’  How often do big corporations do that, especially when the context is “thank you for being patient, while we tried to shove other things down your throat for the last three years.”

Bonus Cheer:  Create anticipation.
By putting the forthcoming launch date as a super, the spot creates anticipation.  This is “appointment advertising” at its simple and singular (ooh, a pun!) best.

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Cola Wars are back. But this time, it’s Airlines.

At last!  Airline advertising is interesting again.  And competitive again.  And at least for Southwest, good again.

As you know by my recent rant, I’ve just about had it with airlines.  Not just because the experience of interacting with their brands isn’t enjoyable, but because their advertising and other marketing isn’t enjoyable either.  American’s “we know why you fly” spots are cheeky, sort of, but targeted at business travelers.  Continental has been running a nice mix of print ads, but “work hard fly right” doesn’t resonate with the headlines in most of the ads.  And have you seen Delta’s in-flight video?  Check out the “smoking is not allowed” bit at 1:50.  Yikes.  Cheeky. In a literal way.

So here comes Southwest.  First, they entertained us with the “bags fly free” spots, poking fun at airlines on a key consumer hot-button, the checked baggage fees that most larger airlines are charging.  Good, solid, features-based advertising that tells a story, entertains and communicates clear benefits. (And, by the way, support Southwest’s casual attitude brand position.)

More recently, they’ve launched a new series of spots that is simply sublime.  The “fee court” campaign takes aim at another big airline peever, the dreaded “change fees.”  In the spots, from GSD&M’s Idea City, we see plaintiffs, called “real travelers” seeking restitution from “big airline executive,” who simply can’t be bothered.  The casting is perfect, the performances are wonderfully glib, and the big airlines are comically vilified in spots that make their points brilliantly.  In one spot, real traveler and big airline executive have approached the bench, and big airline executive rolls his eyes and asks, “will we be here very long?”  The court gasps, the jury whispers, and the verdict is returned:  GUILTY.

In another spot, a business traveler asks a simple question:  “how can three clicks of a mouse cost me $150?”  Big airline executive stumbles and mumbles his response about personnel, computer time and how we “can’t afford to do this for free.”  Jury giggles under their breath.  And in the real payoff, a family of travelers pleads their case.  When a young girl, who was scheduled to fly to see “grammy and grampy” fractures her leg and has to change the flight, big airline executive charges the $150 change fee for all three family tickets.  The spot wins with everyone repeating the basic math “that’s $450.”  The judge looks at the defendant, who arrogantly retorts “it’s an honest dollar, your honor.”

Using the courtroom convention engages viewers in a familiar dramatic setting, (which garners attention) and also allows a lot of content to transpire in a very short time.  These spots are :30s.  The timing is perfect, and the lo-fi production ethos is not an accident or a shortsight, it’s a perfect riff on the afternoon court television format.

And the best part of all these spots is that the focus is singular:  the entire campaign is centered on a specific and definable objective:  communicating the simple benefit that Southwest is the only airline with no change fees.  The creative, the execution, the fun…all of it is able to blossom as a result of such clear focus.

In my last post, I wrote that it’s only a matter of time before the big airlines get “corrected” by the market.  Southwest has done a marvelous job at truncating that timeline by invading unaware enemy territory in the new “cola wars.”  Check out more of the spots at youtube.

I’ll take the airlines. But please hold the advertising.

Face it, big airlines.  You suck.  You suck because you can’t keep your promises. You suck because you’re delivering the same or less service than you were a year ago, and charging way more for it. You suck because you can’t even throw in the lousy meals anymore. You suck because your advertising is a big fat lie.

Please American, Continental/United, Delta, and yes, even you JetBlue.  Please do us all a favor.  Stop spending tens of, no make that hundreds of millions of dollars on all that advertising only to fail us at the ticket counter, and at the gate, and in the sky and when we get our credit card statements.

Truth is, you don’t have exceptional service.  You don’t have the lowest fares.  You don’t have the best routes.  You don’t have the most flights.  You’re not really that convenient after all.

Come to think of it, it’s really funny how just about ALL your advertising focuses on those key benefits, when almost none of you can deliver on these basic promises.

Instead, let’s focus on the basic truths:  across the board, your service is on the scale somewhere between below-grade and adequate.  I don’t discount that there may be an exceptional and caring employee flying the skies on any given A320, but by and large, your staff is just going through the motions.

Your fares are out of whack, and on no discernible pattern. I recently researched a flight from New York/Newark to San Diego on Continental.  (I looked up to THREE months out.)  $1,064.  REALLY?  A thousand bucks?  I could practically get chauffered out there on that dime.  And, hey, JetBlue, those “discount” fares of yours are all but a distant memory now, huh?  When I compared, you were only about $200 cheaper.  Honestly?

And can I ever get on a flight that isn’t “oversold?”

What’s astonishing to me is that the basic laws of marketing, branding and social media all state that airlines should essentially wither on the vine and die, and lose share to the competitor that meets customer needs, and to a market that demands choice.  And yet, these behemoths survive.  Promises are being broken, word of mouth is almost entirely negative, (when was the last time you heard about an “exceptional” flying experience from a co-worker?) prices are going up, and now you’re getting charged for checked baggage and crazy needs like “legroom,” and big airlines seem to almost universally be having banner years.  Where is the competitor who “gets it?” Where is the market demanding choice?

So again, I state my initial request.  Please re-allocate your budgets.  Hold the advertising.  Take the 8- and 9-figure advertising budgets, and instead, just lower rates.  Just STOP with the checked bag fees.  And please stop making me sit in the middle of row 26 when I book a flight a month in advance.