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JetBlue's "All You Can Jet" Promo Shows Power and Peril of Free Media Channels

It's rare that a day goes by without my checking out the trending topics on Twitter -- i.e. the topics which are generating the most buzz at that time. But often they are cryptic until you click on the link (and sometimes even afterwards). So, today, I was befuddled by whatever "All You Can Jet" was, which was the number 4 or 5 trending topic all afternoon. A reference to a long ago hit by "Paul McCartney and Wings?" A reference to Congress' request for additional private planes?

No. It's a reference to a unique JetBlue promotion called, yes, "All You Can Jet" offering people a $599 ticket for unlimited travel between Sept. 8 through Oct. 8 to 57 cities where JetBlue flies. But besides the deal itself, here's what's so fascinating about it; its main promotional components appear to have been a release over PR Newswire and a tweet sent out by JetBlue at around noon today. Augustine Fou, a digital ad exec who was following the promo, put the total PR buzz of the effort at 31 million search results and 10 million blog posts in seven hours. I've no idea how many of these tickets JetBlue was planning on selling, but I'm surprised it isn't sold out yet.

Obviously, this is great for JetBlue, but here's the problem for media, both online and off: marketers are getting more and more adept at using media channels that are free to serve the same purposes they used to use paid media for. JetBlue has about as much experience with this as anyone. Like some of its competitors, it frequently uses the Web to spread the news about promotional fares. Last month, for instance, it opened a new Twitter account called JetBlueCheeps, which offers promotional deals to its Twitter followers on Mondays on a first-come, first-serve basis. The main JetBlue account has over a million followers; JetBlueCheeps is currently at 25,000. There's a whole distribution infrastructure being built around such promotions, and that's without counting all of the people who willingly re-distribute the news.

While the airline business is a bit ahead of the game on this use of social media tools, we'll see this happening over and over again as companes build out their own social media distribution infrastructures. Even a few years ago, a deal like "All You Can Jet" would have been heralded with huge ads in newspapers, and maybe some TV. I can't say for sure that no newspaper ads were bought, but it's telling that there were no such ads today in The New York Times, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal. Probably there weren't any. Nor will there be a need to waste money on advertising tomorrow, less than 24 hours after the program was first announced. It's clear that the free media channels have done their quick, efficient, and free work.

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