Airport smackdown: it’s “gloves off” when dissing rivals

My “At the Airport” column for USAToday.com this week – Gloves are off as airports go after their rivals in ads – is about airports rolling out funny, “in your face” campaigns.

In a video about San Francisco International Airport, Mayor Gavin Newsom has a cameo. So do Marion and Vivian Brown, the kooky 83 year-old identical twins who have become beloved San Francisco icons.  Designed to promote SFO as the connecting hub of choice for travelers coming to the United States from New Zealand or Australia, the video compares SFO’s airy, light-filled, international terminal to an unnamed airport simply referred to as “the bad airport.”

In this video, the bad airport does look pretty bad. But, marketing experts tell me, that’s what airports have to do these days to stand out.

Another example is the new campaign from Canada’s Edmonton International Airport (YEG), which serves about six million passengers a year. On March 1st the airport rolled out a “Stop the Calgary Habit” campaign, urging residents of central and northern Alberta to stop connecting through or driving to Calgary International Airport (YYC), which serves about ten million passengers a year.  Using the tag line “When you go south, so does your air service,” (Ouch!), the campaign includes short (:15) videos portraying repentant passengers.

There’s also a tool kit that includes a shake-able Magic 8-ball-like sphere offering habit-breaking tips and – my favorite – an “Emergency Hypno Cure.”

Barf bags and skywriting

For years Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport’s (MKE) was marketing itself to northern Illinois as “Chicago’s Third Airport” and back in 2005 mailed out a “Sick of O’Hare?” media kit that included (now highly collectible) air sick bags that said “Feel Better, Fly MKE” and a package of breath mints. A few years later, when the Chicago Cubs were playing the Chicago White Sox at Wrigley Field, MKE hired a skywriter to write the address of the MKE website in the airspace over the game.

Airport spokesperson Patricia Rowe says they don’t do that ‘in your face’ stuff anymore. “Now we spend more time focusing on what’s great about our airport instead of attacking O’Hare.”

Nicer, maybe. But nowhere near as much fun.

To read my USAToday.com story about airport smackdowns, please see Gloves are off as airports go after their rivals in ads.