Be sure your marketing tactic fits the challenge

We all know that the airlines are in big trouble.

Back in '03, on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being very dire, aviation industry expert Darryl Jenkins ranked the health of the US airline industry about a 10-12.

And it hasn't gotten any better.

Picture the scene of what has surely happened:

The execs at United have gathered all their marketing folks and their agencies into a big room and said "come up with something to make people want to fly United.  And once they do, let's be sure that they feel special."

All those brilliant minds whirling and working.  The smoke practically billows from their ears.  Then, suddenly someone gives a shout.  They share their brainchild and like a heavenly choir, everyone in the room sings its praises.

And so, the red carpet is born.  (This one was the carpet in LA that we were not invited to walk upon!  And doesn't it look like they are proud of their own program?  Nice, clean carpet eh?)

1redcarpet Yes…that's right.  Now on every United flight, there are two walkways to the jetway.  Divided by cloth retractabelts, there is the walkway for those not smart enough to always choose United or who are infrequent fliers. Then, just off to the side, is the holy grail.  The red carpet.  If you are flying first or business class you can stride onto the plane after first crossing over the United Red Carpet.  (cue the crowd's ohhs and ahhs here)

Come on.  A red carpet? (Which really, as Greg Verdino points out, is a door mat.)   That is the best you can come up with? 

You cannot put a bandaid on a broken leg.  United's red carpet is a surface solution for a very deep problem.  If all of their flights were not oversold, or they hadn't cut their schedules to bare bones or you didn't have to pack in your own pretzels, then sure…try the red carpet.

Think about your air travel experiences.  Would walking on a red carpet make you feel valued?  Or as Greg asks, would it just make you feel silly?  The majority of United's passengers don't fly business or first class.  So how do you suppose being reminded that they're the peasants who haven't earned the right to parade on the red carpet feel?

Where else have you seen companies put a bandaid on a broken limb?

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10 comments on “Be sure your marketing tactic fits the challenge

  1. Lewis Green says:

    Drew,

    Thank you for sharing. This is so typical of the airline industry. Perhaps it is a result of their sales, which are over-flowing. Most major routes fill every seat for every flight. Hardly an environment for innovative marketing.

  2. Cam Beck says:

    Ugh. Half-hearted concept and poor execution to boot.

  3. Matt Dickman says:

    Drew — I’d like to add a new perspective to this and mirror the comment that I left on Greg’s post. If United were only laying out a carpet to make it’s 50,000,000 mileage program members feel welcome (Source: http://tinyurl.com/2htc9h) I would agree with you as to it’s ridiculousness. But, as the last step before you board a jet in an overcrowded terminal it may not be that bad a tactic.

    What’s the cost of that rug? Maybe $100? If walking over that carpet gives just one person the incentive to take one more United flight it’s paid for itself.

    But it has to be the final step in a longer process doesn’t it? Before you walk over the rug, you need to have had good service at your booking, check in, priority expedite through security, more personal attention, etc. If you just lay down a rug, it’s all a joke.

  4. patmcgraw says:

    Ahh, a red door mat that reminds me that I spend too much time in a cramped seat breathing recycled air, watching bad movies with pretty lousy food so that I can depart and arrive behind schedule.

    To Matt’s point about motivating just one person to take one more flight on United…chances are these people take all their flights on United which is how the amassed all those points that enable them to walk on the red door mat so they can be reminded of how much time…..

    This strikes me as about as effective as the proposed signage for the Bronx (http://tinyurl.com/2clxlu)…when you can’t fix the problem, cover it with paint.

  5. Lewis,

    Your comment makes me wonder. So, in a industry that is basically sold out all the time and people use as a necessity because there is no real viable alternative — do they need to market at all?

    What would happen if United (or any airline) stopped all marketing spending and just lowered their fares or maybe they just put it against the cost of gas — would it matter?

    In other words…are there some industries where branding really doesn’t matter and it is all about price?

    Drew

  6. Cam,

    And the rug is dingy and dirty. So even that isn’t being done well.

    Drew

  7. Matt,

    Walking into a plane in a line, that for 4 feet, breaks into two lines and then re-merges back into a single line to get on the plane isn’t, I don’t believe, going to make anyone feel special or appreciated.

    IMO — it is that superficial, stab in the dark tactical “we have to do something to look like we’re trying” marketing that is doomed to fall flat.

    But yes…you’re right. If it was the cherry on top of an amazing experience — then maybe it would be both appropriate and seen as a genuine gesture.

    Drew

  8. Pat,

    That is the perfect analogy — if you can’t fix the problem, cover it with paint.

    Or in this case, a dingy little red rug.

    Drew

  9. Oh goodness. This is a perfect example of a committee getting together, reusing a tired old concept in a not new way–and then calling it a creative new idea that will make customers happy.

    What this looks like to me is that the company doesn’t want to invest any real effort in figuring out how to appeal to customers, they just want something to point at when people ask if they’re marketing.

  10. Katie,

    Yes…it’s a swinging a fly swatter at King Kong just to say you tried. Disappointing but not all that surprising.

    I haven’t gotten the sense that the airlines give a rip for a very long time.

    Drew

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