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.

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