Response Advertising–Airline Edition

Update–with the merger, the video is now private on Air Tran’s channel. Too bad–it was worth a laugh.

Traveling with an airline today means facing the complicated 2010 world of airport security and airline policies. Just a decade ago, we didn’t need to worry about bringing our coffee with us through security, we didn’t have to scan our shoes for explosives, and we didn’t have to wonder how much would be added to the cost of our ticket to bring our bags along.

As of a few weeks ago, every major airline in the United States has an additional charge for flying two bags (what used to be the standard free baggage allotment), except Dallas-based discount carrier Southwest, and thankfully, they have the marketing sense to make a big deal about it.

Previous spots in the “Bags Fly Free” campaign have featured a Southwest ramp agent driving a “bag train” around while an announcer asks “Why do other airlines hate your bags?” A more well-produced followup features more ramp agents standing by a plane talking about how they love bags. During this commercial, a jet flying for a regional partner of United Airlines taxis by, and one of the Southwest employees shouts “why do you charge for bags?” The logo of the other plane is blurred, but airline buffs quickly figured out who the spot was aimed at.

Fast forward to the new Southwest ad, where they decided to target rival discount airline AirTran. The barely-blurred effect is back for this commercial and the Southwest ramp agents let their competitor have it.

Click to play Southwest’s Ad

While United Airlines did not run an response to the question “why do you charge for bags?” (and, for that matter, break guitars), AirTran wasn’t going miss their opportunity to poke fun back at Southwest.

(For those unfamiliar with Southwest–a 30-second primer. Southwest does not use assigned seating on their airplanes, but rather assigns ticketholders as Zone A, B or C depending on the time they checked in. These zones then board the airplane in order, much like boarding by rows, except that you may sit anywhere you like on the plane. Sometimes this can lead to competitions for desirable window or aisle seats, and some in the industry derogatorily call Southwest’s boarding process a “cattle call”.)

Here’s Airtran’s response:

Both ads are relatively entertaining. Southwest made a bet that seeing “Bags Fly Free” painted on the chests of their employees would be a memorable way to get their main marketing point across. AirTran hopes that you will see the Southwest boarding process as chaotic and stressful. However, Air Tran does not address the baggage fee issues (perhaps because their first-bag fee of $15 is one of the lowest in the industry.) Also, AirTran’s ad only ran on the company’s website, unlike the Southwest ad which got extensive play during March Madness.

I’m going to have to give the Southwest spot the edge for effectiveness, but the AirTran spot wins in the entertainment department. It was a clever and well-played response, even if they did dodge the main issue.

What are some of the greatest response ads of all time? Have any gone on to become more famous than the spot they were responding too? What would you do as Southwest to respond to the “cattle call” jab?