AirTran turns to video to counter competitor ad

On March 18, AirTran Airways employees alerted PR director Christopher White that one of Southwest Airlines' national TV ads ("Battle Cry") showed Southwest employees flashing their chests painted with the words "Bags Fly Free" at an AirTran plane.

Client: AirTran Airways
Agency: Cramer-Krasselt Public Relations
Campaign: Skip the Stampede
Duration: March 22 - April 2, 2010
Budget: Less than $5,000

On March 18, AirTran Airways employees alerted PR director Christopher White that one of Southwest Airlines' national TV ads (“Battle Cry”) showed Southwest employees flashing their chests painted with the words “Bags Fly Free” at an AirTran plane. The logo was pixilated, but the employees recognized the plane.

White says employees expected a response. AirTran didn't have budget for a national TV ad, so White and AOR Cramer-Krasselt (C-K) brainstormed an alternative.

“We wanted to have fun but not be mean spirited,” White notes.

The team created “Skip the Stampede,” a video that pokes fun at Southwest's open boarding process and emphasizes AirTran's differentiation.

Strategy
White says the team wanted to ramp up social media, generate buzz, please employees, and differentiate the brand. Video production firm Common Machine filmed the video at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (AirTran's hub). It was distributed online and the team reached out to media and bloggers to drive awareness.

Tactics
The video features passengers in cow costumes stampeding past a gate area with Southwest's pixilated logo onto a plane. It also highlights AirTran's differentiation of assigned seating, business class seating, and Wi-Fi.

The team called for AirTran employee volunteers to dress in cow costumes. White says more than 50 volunteered within minutes.

On March 26 “Skip the Stampede” was posted on insideairtran.com, an employee site that's also public facing, and on AirTran's YouTube channel.

“We enabled viewer comments on the video on YouTube for the first time,” White says. “We'd [previously] used YouTube as hosting platform…[not] a feedback loop.”

Bloomberg was given an exclusive. The team then reached out to other consumer print and TV outlets. Airline industry and travel bloggers were also targeted. Messaging stressed the video was intended as humorous, not antagonistic.   

Results
From March 26 - April 2 the video garnered more than 90,000 views total on YouTube and insideairtran.com (current views are more than 92,000). C-K VP John Feld reports 500 tweets mentioning the video during that week. 

White says the campaign far exceeded expectations. He notes that March 29 set a record for visits to insideairtran.com (18,202). Subscribers to AirTran's YouTube channel nearly tripled (from 40 prior to the campaign to 113 currently). Viewer numbers increased on other YouTube channel videos.

“Before the cows, our most popular video had about 3,000 views – now it's more than 7,000,” White says. 

The campaign generated more than four million media impressions in outlets including CNN.com, CBSNews.com, and BusinessWeek.com.

Future
AirTran launched a Facebook page April 16. The team is working on an ongoing Facebook promotion for AirTran U, a student standby program.

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