Bags fly free (sort of)

, for one, am susceptible to advertising, and this embarrassing fact is proven by the number of ShamWow!’s I have at home. As a business owner without a marketing education, I try to learn the tricks by watching what other companies do.

The most effective campaign of recent times has to be Southwest Airline’s. Think about what their message is. It isn’t low fares, it isn’t transportation, and it isn’t their service. Their marketing genius is summed up in three words: Bags Fly Free!

Is it a true statement? Not really, especially when you realize it would mean they don’t factor the weight of baggage into their fare.

Is it a false statement? Not really, considering they don’t break out the cost for luggage as a line item. But the veracity of the message isn’t what we focus on; we focus on Southwest’s message of fairness.

Their marketing aligns perfectly with their sales strategy though. Southwest doesn’t sell tickets on Travelocity for a reason. If they did they’d be competing on price and, in order to appear on the first page of results, they’d use the same tactic the other airlines do: break out costs to be on the first page. Bag “fees” are a direct result of the filters that sort fares by price, and Southwest has found a way to compete by not competing.

You don’t really think airlines charge for bags, do you? A flight to Phoenix costs $200 whether its $175 plus a $25 bag fee like Frontier and United, or $200 with no fee like Southwest. In fact, of the flights I checked, Frontier with the bag fee is less expensive than Southwest without a fee 6 out of 10 times. But it’s hard to find that out when the two fares are never side-by-side.

Southwest doesn’t want them to be, either. Notice their ad campaign: it never says “Fly Southwest, we have lower fares.” They leave that to our faulty reasoning. They have a perfect message that leads us to make an assumption. They never said they were cheaper, they just said bags are free.

Southwest has also struck gold with the number of times one commercial can use three words. Repetition, as we know, is the key to advertising, and most companies assume that means more commercials. Southwest does buy a lot of airtime, but they have repetition within the spots too. I counted 11 uses of “Bags Fly Free” in one 30-second commercial. It’s no wonder why, when I ask my 13-year-old what airline doesn’t charge for bags, she knows the answer.

Most advertisers stuff a hundred messages into one ad hoping to appeal to the broadest possible audience. The problem with that shotgun approach is that there’s no one thing for the audience to remember. There is no “Bags Fly Free!”

The best thing for any business to do is to figure out their one message, make it as short as absolutely possible, and say it over and over. And over. It doesn’t have to explain itself, and it doesn’t have to be logical, but it does have to be defensible, easy to remember, and aligned with the sales strategy.

Southwest doesn’t sell air travel, or safety, or their sense of humor. They’ve found the one way they’re different from their competition, and that’s what they say. Bags fly free. Does it work? You can bet your sweet marketing budget it does.

Advertising has always been about the message. 1 percent is how you tell them, but 99 percent is what you tell them. Do you spend most of your time on the message – or the medium?


Categories: Sales & Marketing