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How the JetBlue Carmageddon Promotion Came Together

This weekend was Carmageddon here in Southern California. You probably heard all about it, because I’m told that this was national and even global news. JetBlue smartly took advantage of the opportunity and scored itself some unique press while endearing itself among Southern Californians by offering flights between Burbank and Long Beach, just a few miles apart. Here’s how it came together.

JetBlue Carmageddon

Carmageddon was supposed to result in epic gridlock thanks to the closing of the 405 freeway in a key spot between West LA and the San Fernando Valley. The freeway is being expanded and they had to knock down a bridge as part of that project. That required a weekend-long shutdown. The public awareness was tremendous, and in the end, the freeway reopened way early and there was no gridlock. Kudos certainly go to all the authorities involved for getting the word out so well that people stayed local this weekend.

But many of the warnings in advance were that there would be terrible gridlock. Every electronic road sign on every freeway flashed closure info. They even trotted out temporary signs. The local media had been covering it for weeks, and when it was given the name “Carmageddon,” it really stuck. Meanwhile, there had been a few efforts to figure out ways around the mess including discounted helicopter flights and things like that. JetBlue decided to jump in on Wednesday by offering two roundtrip flights between Burbank and Long Beach for cheap. Really cheap.

The flights were scheduled for Saturday afternoon and would cost only $4 all-in each way, $5 if you wanted to spring for extra legroom. Get it? 4 or 5 = 405. The flights sold out in less than three hours. In fact, JetBlue says that this was the fastest selling promotion it has ever launched.

Clearly JetBlue didn’t expect to make a profit on these flights alone. Each flight generated $642 in revenue. That’s enough to buy just over 200 gallons of fuel, and I bet the flight used even more than that. But that wasn’t the point. This was all about generating exposure, or as JetBlue said, “the value we are receiving beyond the publicity is earning new customers and educating the community on about all of the cities we serve. Our research shows that once a customer tries us, they become loyal fans!” If that’s the case, then this worked wonders.

The response was immediate. Within minutes, news vans had swarmed JetBlue’s operations in Burbank and Long Beach to cover the story. After so many weeks of covering the same boring stuff around the closure, this was a fun story that really hit the spot and was top story on several newscasts. The local coverage was priceless. JetBlue hasn’t been as visible in SoCal as it was during its early days, but this was a clear stand of solidarity with those who live here. JetBlue knows your pain, and JetBlue is going to try to relieve it and help you fly down to the beach.

Emails quickly flew through cyberspace – I had all kinds of friends sending me notes about this, asking if I’d be taking it. You might think that there could have been backlash from environmentalists decrying such a waste, but I saw none of that. In fact, environmentally-friendly transport lovers jumped on the bandwagon. A biking group called Wolfpack Hustle put together a challenge to see who could get from a location near Burbank Airport to the Long Beach Aquarium the fastest – someone who flew or someone who biked. The bikes won considering the drive time to the airport and the waiting time as well. That little wrinkle simply gave the story staying power. It was covered nonstop leading up to the flights. Of course, when the flights operated on Saturday, there was more coverage as well.

Even though this was a marketing coup, the idea didn’t come from marketing at all. According to JetBlue, it came from “a crewmember outside of the marketing department, and we ran with it!” I’m guessing it came from someone here in SoCal. JetBlue has a large presence with its Long Beach crew base, so it could have come from anyone, and hopefully they get a little thank you note, at the very least. There aren’t a lot of places where something like that could come together that quickly, but JetBlue is one of those places. This idea came up on Monday, was launched on Wednesday, and flew on Saturday.

On Saturdays, JetBlue has a thinner schedule in Burbank. One airplane comes in from JFK at 1118a and doesn’t leave for Vegas until 355p. So they stuck a roundtrip to Long Beach in there while it was on the ground. The next flight lands from Vegas at 555p but doesn’t go back to New York until 920p. They slotted another roundtrip to Long Beach in there. All they needed were crews to fly the extra legs, but with a Long Beach crew base, I can’t imagine that was hard to find for a little flightseeing around SoCal.

JetBlue even went to the FAA to make sure that it wouldn’t have any trouble getting a clear flight path through crowded air space. No problem.

The result was a well-liked promotion that got the airline coverage all over the US and even around the world. Excellent move.

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