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Why Spirit Airlines Decided To Embrace Consumers’ Hate

The discount airline is using social media complaints to fuel its latest ad campaign.

Why Spirit Airlines Decided To Embrace Consumers’ Hate

As Conan O’Brien once said, “If life gives you lemons, make some kind of fruity juice.” For its most recent marketing campaign, Spirit Airlines has adapted this sentiment to something more like, “If life gives you angry insulting Tweets, make some kind of funny advertising.”

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The discount airline is using consumers’ complaints and insults over Twitter to power hatethousandmiles.com, which offers free travel miles to people who vent their frustrations about Spirit or any other airline. The brand, and agency Barkley, even turned some of the tweets into a weird little tune. But with lyrics like, “I’d rather unicycle to Miami with two broken ankles than fly Spirit Airlines,” and Spirit Airlines can “suck every %!@# in the universe right about now,” what’s the upside?

The brand’s VP of marketing Bobby Schroeter says it’s an educational opportunity. While the brand’s no frills approach is commonplace in Europe with brands like Ryanair and Easyjet, it’s a relatively new concept in the US. “Anytime something new is presented, especially if consumers are used to a certain experience, it can be uncomfortable, even frustrating–even if they are saving money in the long run,” says Schroeter. “Some people don’t get it. They’re expecting the all-inclusive pricing that most legacy airlines charge. So when their experience isn’t what they were expecting, they like to vent. And the way a lot of people vent today is through tweets. Rather than pretend those tweets don’t exist, we decided to embrace them. While we are serious about saving people money on air travel, and providing a clean and safe flight, we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously that we can’t address some humorous vents from Twitter.”

It’s a unique approach that’s garnered the brand plenty of earned media and likely spread the word that everything from carry-on luggage to water costs extra.

And that’s the key to such a counterintuitive marketing approach–making sure that customers, annoyed as they are, understand the rules so they keep coming back. Because despite the fact that the brand has won the title for “rudest flight attendants” in the industry, and all-round most hated airline, it’s still reportedly the most profitable carrier in the country. As if the airline industry wasn’t grim enough.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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