Posted March 5, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk
The upside of loyalty and popularity is pretty obvious. The downside of popularity and loyalty? People feel very possessive of you. They take the things you do personally. And they have no qualms about making it known.
Case in point: Southwest’s decision to plaster a shot of model Bar Rafaeli in a swimsuit on one of its planes to advertise the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. In response, Southwest has received a hailstorm of criticism by people who have never seen a woman in a bikini before—ahem—by people who are offended by what they see as gratuitous sexuality on the side of a Southwest plane.
In a letter which will now forever link the words “boobies” and “Chris and Sharon Kraemer” on Google, the disapproving Midlothian, Texas, couple wrote to the airline, “Many women do not enjoy having their husbands exposed to explicit pictures or explaining to young children why the lady on the plane is 'showing her boobies'."
(Factual insertion: she’s wearing a top. A triangle bikini top to be sure, but a top, nonetheless.)
A quick perusal of the Southwest blog has turned up fewer specific anatomical mentions, but plenty of people who find this ad technique “tacky”, “trash” and not “family friendly” (sic). Oh the rage.
Okay, I get this. There’s a difference between having sexuality thrust in your face on the newsstands and on a great big ol’ plane at the airport. However, this isn’t much different than what you’d find on the beach. (No different at all if the beach happened to be populated by gigantic women.) And, to Southwest’s credit, the picture is relatively tasteful; Rafaeli is lying on her side and giving the camera a look that isn’t so much “come hither” as confused and vaguely annoyed.
But the people in opposition to this campaign obviously care deeply about Southwest. They feel loyal to Southwest. And now Southwest has betrayed them. On the blog, poster Jim Dawson has this to say: “I'm acutally sort of let down that Southwest, a company I really admire, would stoop this low.” (sic) while Kevin says, “Having a woman in a bikini on the side of the plane hardly seems like the epitome of the friendly, down-home airline I've grown accustomed to.” And there you have the negative aspect of a strong customer base: When you try to break out of the box, you’re going to tick people off. When you tick people off who used to love you, they can become just as rabid opponents as they had been supporters.
Could Southwest’s publicity- and income-garnering antics alienate enough of a base that it could cost them market share? Well, let’s put it this way: There’s a reason that politicians change their message based on what they think their biggest audiences want to hear. They want to stay in office...and Southwest wants to stay in the skies.
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