For months now, Alaska has been preparing to acquire Virgin America, and yesterday it became official. Alaska now owns the airline, but the two are far from becoming one. The hard work to make that happens starts now. In the meantime, Alaska has shifted marketing direction in exactly how it’s positioning this merger, and the new plan has a very Virgin flavor to it.
When the merger was first announced, Alaska seemed to be highlighting how complementary and similar it and Virgin America were. The merger press release noted in various places that the two airlines were known for providing outstanding customer service, having low fares, employing hard-workers, earning customer admiration, providing excellent inflight service, operating a safety-centric airline, and more. While there are similarities, nobody was buying that these were two peas in a pod. And now with the closing of the merger, Alaska has shifted the messaging to actually highlight the differences with its “different works” tagline.
At first blush, it looks like someone at Alaska forgot to password-protect his computer, and a Virgin America marketer snuck in and launched a new campaign. I mean, does this sound like the Alaska you know?
I can appreciate a Ren and Stimpy cameo as much as the next person, but it still doesn’t sound like the Alaska of old. Neither does this:
Like bacon on a donut, electricity and guitars, or Labradors and poodles, we’re an odd couple that works well together. We may seem like an unexpected pair—but our differences complement each other. Together we’ll accomplish our mission to continue challenging the status quo, and make flying better for everyone.
This sounds like it has purple-stained Virgin America fingerprints all over it. That, I suppose, is deliberate in that it should help calm the jittery Virgin America-lovers. There are some Californians who are truly afraid that those flannel-wearing Seattleites are going to ruin the cool-kid airline they love. This may calm their nerves a bit, though it might have the opposite effect in Seattle. Having the merger-closing ceremony in San Francisco could also cause concern in the northwest corner of the country, but it shouldn’t. It looks like Alaska is really just bending over backwards to make sure the Virgin America folks feel included. That’s not a bad thing.
As for the slogan, it’s not my favorite, though I’ve spoken to others who absolutely love it. For my logical brain, the slogan just isn’t accurate. It should say “different CAN work.” Sure, mixing labradors and poodles (Virgin America is so clearly the poodle here) may have created an adorable dog, but not all mixes work out right. Ever see what happens when you mix a pitbull and a dachsund? (This is real.)
Right, that clearly didn’t go as planned. (Thanks, Earth Porm.) And right now, we don’t quite know what the Alaska/Virgin America combo is going to look like. I suppose the slogan is simply aspirational, but it’s way too early to know where this union is going to go.
Until the merger closed yesterday, Alaska couldn’t dig into Virgin America’s numbers, and that means there wasn’t enough data on which to base meaningful changes. Now, the books are open and people are probably cuddling up in bed with reams of paper (or, you know, a tablet) to figure out which direction looks best.
Because of that, almost nothing has happened yet outside of the transaction simply closing. The most visible change so far is a route announcement, or three. Even without Virgin America’s numbers, Alaska has already found some opportunities in markets Virgin America previously abandoned.
It’ll bring back flights from San Francisco to both Orlando and Orange County. The former, well, I don’t quite know why. But the latter is something that makes a lot of sense. This merger is supposed to be about increasing utility to travelers in California. While Virgin America couldn’t make this route work on its own before, today there’s less competition in the market and Alaska has a stronger presence on the southern end. I’m not surprised to see this high on the list.
The airlines are also going to start a new route, San Francisco to Minneapolis, something that I assume was at the top of the list for an important corporate client or two.
Other than that, the only announced changes (starting Monday) are a few early cross-benefits in the frequent flier program (reciprocal mileage earning, elite priority check-in and boarding). Nothing else has been decided, or at least not publicly. They specifically call out that “no decisions regarding the Virgin America brand have been made.” So it’s mostly a waiting game.
And that’s why this new “different works” slogan, while highly aspirational, makes me nervous. The mad scientists are just starting to put this hybrid together. Maybe it’ll be a labradoodle, but it could also end up a pitsund (dachbull?). As a Southern Californian, I hope it’s the former. Either way, I’ll cover the evolution every step of the way.