JetBlue Should Drop Ads, Get Back to Communicating

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

JetBlue is missing the point with its recent ad push. What it needs is to get back to what made it a media and consumer darling: customer service and good internal and external communication.

As Ad Age reported last week, it's also considering hiring a crisis-PR shop. That's not a bad move. We certainly applaud any marketer that realizes that when the snow hits the tarmac (so to speak), it's better for a company to communicate, to get its story out in the media and in front of consumers, rather than keep quiet and hope it all goes away. Kudos, too, for seeking a shop with a wide range of experience and one that has a working knowledge of new media. As spokeswoman Jenny Dervin pointed out, these days, "that's where the story breaks and where the story lives."

But Ms. Dervin also brought up an interesting conundrum. She said rising fuel costs may force the airline to abandon its search for a PR firm.

That sort of honesty is refreshing (though we can't imagine the C-suite appreciated it). But it raises a question: If the airline must protect its cash, why is it pouring money into that ridiculous "Jetting" ad campaign? Sure, there's something to be said for optimism in advertising, but pretending that flying in a commercial airliner is some sort of leisurely whim is laughable. Prices are going up, and service -- well, all the seat-back TVs in the world aren't going to make up for putting someone in the bathroom or keeping passengers stuck in grim airports for hours.

Besides, convincing more people to fly doesn't seem like a smart move for an airline that has trouble handling the passengers it already has. It won't fool new passengers, and it will only upset current passengers. JetBlue achieved its success by being unlike the other airlines. Its good name spread -- via word-of-mouth and smart marketing -- because great customer service gave it a compelling story to tell.

Priority No. 1 should be getting back to a place where consumers want to share good stories. Take the money being wasted on that campaign and plow it into customer service. (Ever notice how, when the customer is happy, you don't need to spin the media so much?) Then, if you have any money left over, apply some of it to a PR firm. Then try to avoid crises -- especially the self-made sort.
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