Alaska Airlines Ads Take On SkyHigh

LOS ANGELES Alaska Airlines today launches a campaign that seeks to highlight its customer service.

Created by WongDoody in Seattle, the TV, radio and online effort focuses on fictional carrier SkyHigh Airlines and addresses the troubles many travelers encounter in the airports and the skies. Tom Skerritt, who played “Viper” in the movie Top Gun, provides the voiceover for the ads. The tagline, “The spirit of Alaska,” remains.

Spending on the campaign, which primarily targets business travelers, was undisclosed. Alaska Airlines spent $6 million on advertising in 2002 and $2 million for the first six months of 2003, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Two of the four TV spots will begin airing today in Los Angeles, Seattle and Alaska. One ad, “Bench Seating,” has SkyHigh passengers packed together in a plane, waving papers and fans to cool themselves. A man squeezes into a row of bench seating and fastens the seat belt, which is shared by the seatmates in his row. The voiceover is, “At Alaska Airlines, low fares don’t come at your expense.”

Another execution, “Polite-a-Prompter,” has a SkyHigh ticket agent experiencing difficulty with his teleprompter glasses as he feigns customer service when greeting people.

Two additional spots will break in early 2004. One shows a SkyHigh employee playing a banjo to soften bad news such as a charge applied to a seat change and lost luggage. The other features flight attendants handing out vouchers for pillows, water and toilet paper.

“Everything is about cost-cutting and saving money because of the economy,” said WongDoody chairman and creative director Tracy Wong. “Customer service is basically gone. Everyone has become a beleaguered traveler, and the expectation levels for good service are so low.” He added that even in these times, Alaska Airlines remains focused on customer service.

Ads are similar in tone to a campaign the client ran in the 1970s and ’80s that parodied the industry and was created by the former Livingston & Co., Wong said. He noted that Alaska Airlines has done little TV advertising in the last three years, with the exception of spot-TV ads touting sponsorships or promotions. The client also has not run TV ads in Los Angeles in the last 20 years, he said.

“We all agree that the timing of the message is right,” said Wong. “Service is on the downside, and we’re trying to maintain that advantage.”

In addition to the TV spots, which are running during sports, prime-time and news programming, WongDoody has created four radio spots that are “fake” commercials from SkyHigh, said Wong. One features SkyHigh passengers using virtual-reality goggles to pretend they are in first class; in another, passengers fight for seats because they are not pre-reserved; and a third addresses multiple stopovers. Radio ads will also push into markets such as Phoenix and Canada.

WongDoody also has created a Web site, www.skyhighairlines.com, which extends the campaign and is an “Onion-esque” site that uses humor to address air travel.