JetBlue’s Last Laugh

A clever parody from the hot-stuff airline mocks the measly offerings of its competitors

They’re not visionaries, nor are they reinventing any ad form. Indeed, at the risk of wasting 60 seconds and seeming downright dumb, Jet Blue’s “mockumentary” merely makes fun of other airline commercials that offer incredibly obvious testimonials from actual passengers and crew members. But in restating the obvious, JetBlue is doing something profound.

When you think about it, and you get past the soaring music and the need to believe that the mechanics really care about their wrenches and that the pilots come from a family of pilots, airlines like American and United are congratulating themselves, and expecting to be rewarded, for things that should be an ordinary part of service. Indeed, flying has become such a horrendous experience that arriving at your destination with your baggage almost seems like an extraordinary selling point.

Shot from below, in soaring, hero-making, Leni Riefenstahl style, the JetBlue spot opens on a counter guy who has a bit of the poet in him: “We take off. We fly around for a while. And we land. Someplace else,” he says, explaining the nature of the business. These are not actors but actual JetBlue employees, just like the competitor employees they’re mocking. (And if you think that’s mean, the answer is the typical 5-year-old’s comeback: “They started it!”)

The cutting and pacing is perfect in sustaining the deadpan tone, while the spot (directed by Ad Store founder Paul Cappelli) artfully builds a monument of self- evidence: A crew member in a blue jumpsuit says, “When people fly, they expect their bags to go with them.” And a flight attendant adds, with due reverence: “Sometimes people want to sit together, so we seat them next to each other.”

The cheesy, Aaron-Copland-wannabe music swells in all the right places as, with unmistakable pride, a gate attendant offers: “When the plane is ready to board, I usually say, ‘The plane is ready to board.’ ” One revelation is particularly stunning: “A woman asked for a soda,” a flight attendant says, “so I gave it to her. With ice.”

Just to make sure people get that the commercial is a send-up, the mockumentary includes an interviewer who adds his own tendentious questions at the right times, like, “And the ice acts as a cooling agent?” when the flight attendant talks about serving the soda.

It’s funny, but it’s also dead-on—not only has the service degenerated but passengers have learned to fear reprisals from the powers that be. I flew American last week, and about an hour and a half into the flight, I was still waiting patiently for the snack cart to get to my row. Once the cart rolled into perfect serving position for my seat, and I looked up beseechingly, like a thirsty dog, I ended up staring into the flight attendant’s nostrils for about five minutes as she recounted to her cartmate the intricacies of a property-line dispute that was forcing her to move her driveway. But I didn’t say a word, for fear that she might withhold my pretzels.

As an upstart that is actually making money, JetBlue is in an enviable spot, perfectly positioned for the new aviation economy. It has long had sassy advertising (one hilarious spot had an airplane crew serving a subway car, including giving headphones to a guy with a 40-pound boombox, and hugging people on the way out). But more than any ads, JetBlue is successful because of its clear brand identity. Like Starbucks, it’s a fully integrated, cohesive brand. Deep down it offers something more convincing than advertising—a pleasurable consumer experience on every trip.

The first black mark on JB’s reputation came last week with the brouhaha over its sharing of passenger itineraries with a government contractor working on new screening processes after 9/11. This was a clear violation of the company’s privacy policy, and CEO David Neeleman asked for his customers’ forgiveness.

Here, the value of a likable brand makes all the difference. If the brand is already half-dead, a media revelation like that could actually kill it. But in this case, I doubt that anyone who has experienced JetBlue would give up the helpful agents, discount fares, leather seats, increased leg room, individual TVs and on-time takeoff and arrival due to that error in judgment.

We’ve seen a lot of advertising that makes fun of advertising (remember the Energizer bunny coming through?), but in this case, the airlines are in such stasis that here the self-circling is justified. A takeoff in the best tradition of a Spinal Tap-like parody, here’s to JetBlue’s mighty wind.