Barbara Lippert’s Critique

I’m all for moving on, for advertisers to keep them major brand messages rollin’ despite terrorism and war and special celebrity editions of Fear Factor. As every bit of research since Sept. 11 has proved, Americans like seeing commercials and, in some strange way, are even comforted by them during tough times.

Surely no industry is experiencing tougher times than the airline industry. But unlike the older giants that are facing extinction, JetBlue, less than 2 years old, is perfectly positioned for the new aviation economy. It has a great name and a great niche: superlow fares, no Saturday-night stay-over pricing hassles, a workable Web site, satellite TV at every leather seat. And, also in great contrast to the rest of the industry, JetBlue produced a solid profit in the third quarter. So the company should have a jaunty, snappy brand identity that is as new and fresh as JetBlue itself.

A recent campaign used flying supers—the same brisk and simple, all-type “reasons to fly” approach that Delta employed a few weeks later. In its new TV campaign, which broke last week, JetBlue be came the first airline since the terrorist attacks to boldly go where no other carrier has: humor in advertising. New York humor, that is, to promote flights from JFK to Florida (JetBlue has more flights to Florida from NYC than any other airline).

So far, so good. Certainly, the “New York Miracle” spots from BBDO prove that even at this super-sensitive time, you can make fun of an array of New York institutions and celebs in a delightful, unex pected way that defies all cultural stereo types, with everyone in on the joke. Even Henry Kissinger. But while we are celebrating this temporary bonding moment, this emergence of the new greatest-generation schtick, with the ich bin ein New Yorker thing also happening, do we really need to resurrect the idea of the JAP?

That’s Jewish American princess or, in this case, any kind of tri-state-area American princess, the more selfish and demanding the better. Open on a holiday party, the kind of lavishly catered affair with crystal goblets and twinkly background music that aspires to upper-class in commercials for chocolates. The camera pans over the groaning buffet table to a woman pouring her friend a glass of wine. A British announcer (Cockney accent) says, “New Yorkers are known for their exceptional taste. So what is New York’s favorite wine?” With that, we get sucked into some hellish parallel-universe vortex as the friend with the crystal wine glass nasally shrieks, “I wanna go to Flahrida!” And the other one, with equal amounts of nose-osity, shrieks, “Me too!”

Maybe this hits too close to home for me, anthropologically speaking. But it also has a dated ’70s feel (that’s when I probably first heard the joke). Plus, it feeds into the mis ogynist humor of the Jackie Mason-style canon, stuff like, “The only kitchen appliance my wife ever uses is the phone—to make reservations.” Ba boom!

Even if a lot of JetBlue’s customers are voracious, never happy, spoiled women just like this one, my question is, Why would you want to remind them, or the rest of us, of that fact? So we can hang around the cabin to see if their leather pants will stick to the leather seats?

A second spot is certainly less offensive. Simple and kind of cute, it shows a New York guy sitting in his white Barce lona chair, in his almost empty loft, a robotic dog and a blinking tree by his side. “We’ve got a warm spot for you,” the announcer says, and with that, a smile breaks out on the guy’s face, from one hipster ear to the other. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s aesthetically pleasing.

Not to get too sanctimonious here, but at this moment of great world tension over religion and racial profiling and cultural hatred, the last thing we need is another cultural stereotype to divide people. And at a time when we’re all still kind of freaked out about flying, no matter how cheap or cool the flight is, why give us a new worry: that we’ll have to endure that voice for the whole flight?