Southwest's Fee-Fighting Marketing Efforts

Last Updated Aug 7, 2008 10:24 AM EDT

Let's move over into the marketing world for today. Southwest's all-out marketing assault on fees is continuing. Last week at NBTA, I saw yet another example of their efforts. Southwest Super HeroesThey introduced Southwest Super Heroes, there to fight fees. No, I couldn't make this up.

To be fair, this one isn't actually part of the marketing plan. This was an NBTA special. Since the conference is targeted to corporate travel managers, Southwest decided to use this to say that they're "Saving Corporate America From Fees." And why not? The whole "fee" thing has become an issue for corporations. Of course, airfare can be expensed, but now that everything is being broken out, what can and can't be expensed? What if someone buys a snack on board? Does it matter what the meal time is? It just makes for a more complicated situation.

So Southwest is really trying to milk the fact that they still don't charge fees. I think it's a smart move. If they aren't going to charge the fees, they have to be able to justify it. They need to market the heck out of this thing. But if that Super Hero effort was just for NBTA, what else are they doing? Well, they had what I assume to be a couple of print ads at the show as well.Southwest Ad 1 I'm not sure how well you can see the ad at right, but the headline reads, "What have they been smoking? Apparently, your rolled-up $20s." Now that's comedy. (OK, I might not have the same sense of humor as everyone else, but I thought it was hilarious.) Then they go on to do a side-by-side comparison between equal-priced tickets once all the fees have been added in. It's a pretty shocking comparison, to say the least.

Southwest needs this campaign to work, otherwise we could see fees coming from them as well. Since nobody else is really going the "no-fee" route, they've got a very strong position here. The biggest problem? It's going to be really tough to tie revenue back to the no-fee stance. CEO Gary Kelly has said so himself, so it's mostly going to have to be a leap of faith that the value of "no-fees" is worth the cost of not having any. I'd like to think that this is the right move, but if oil stays over $100 a barrel, there will probably be plenty of pressure to dip their toes into the world of fees.

As the one airline with a significantly differentiated product, Southwest stands a lot to lose by switching away from this policy. For that reason, I think we'll see it last for some time, as long as we see continuous revenue growth from the airline.