Southwest rings $20M in fares with killer app

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Last June, a collection of executives-motley by most corporate standards-got together at Southwest Airlines' Dallas headquarters to discuss a crucial topic: how to protect the low-cost air carrier's leadership position in online bookings.

In addition to the expected team of Southwest marketing staff, creatives and account execs from Austin ad agency of record GSD&M, the brainstorming session was peopled by operations, public relations and even information-technology staffers from both the agency and the marketer. The ideas, like branding the winglets on the fleet of 737s with the logo, flew like bird feathers from a jet engine. Among the more "out there" ideas, said Dianna Howell, VP-account director, was the goal of getting a "Southwest icon on every desktop in America."

Just over a year later, what was once "out there" is now at least in the realm of possibility. The big idea from the meeting turned out to be Ding, an application that delivers live fare information direct to customers' computer desktop, making Southwest the first airline to crack that sacred marketing territory. On the heels of the launch Feb. 28, the airline experienced its two biggest online sales days and increased membership in its frequent-flier program-and that was before there was any major advertising spending. To date, the program is responsible for more than $20 million worth of fares, said Kevin Krone, Southwest's VP-interactive marketing.

"The idea is to think beyond TV commercials and print ads and work on big ideas that are not necessarily advertising ideas," said Steve Miller, senior VP-group creative director at GSD&M.

To be sure, the idea that birthed Ding was made possible by a strong foundation-Southwest's large base of loyal customers. It was first marketed to Rapid Rewards members, who received credits in exchange for downloading and keeping the application for 30 days.


But Southwest, in addition to increasing loyalty, also saw Ding as a way to acquire a particular kind of customer-the one who says to himself, "I may not fly very often, but at the right price you could get me to take a trip," as Anne Murray, Southwest's senior director-interactive marketing, put it. "Can we serve up something that's going to make you want to take a trip you hadn't planned? That's Southwest 101," Ms. Murray said.

To complement the viral launch aimed at piquing the interest of insiders, GSD&M and Southwest executed a PR campaign, getting 125 placements in the first week, a blitz that included coverage in all of Southwest's top 40 markets. Southwest spent just $150 in PR costs.

TV was the last piece added, with Southwest rolling out spots last month, also created by GSD&M.

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