JetBlue’s Premium Service Rollout Strategy: ‘Don’t Call It First Class’

We’ve been watching JetBlue‘s “Mint” service rollout campaign with interest this summer because it makes for a great case study in brand messaging.

The basics are these: JetBlue has, despite some colorful incidents, established a reputation as the “we all fly coach” airline for the little guy—an image reinforced by clever “we get it” stunt campaigns. The Mint offering toys with that equation by giving certain passengers on certain cross-country flights (New York to LA and, later in 2014, NY to San Francisco) a “premium experience”, but during the rollout, JetBlue’s comms team has taken every opportunity to remind the public and the media not to call it “first class.”

The web copy is telling:

So it’s “premium”, “top notch”,  and “mint condition”, but it isn’t first class—at least not in the traditional sense of the phrase. That didn’t stop most journos from stomping all over JetBlue’s message with posts like this one from Gothamist, which originally ran under the more inflammatory headline “JetBlue Screws Coach Passengers”, and this one from The Boston Globe, which pops up in searches under “All-Coach JetBlue Airways Adds a First-Class Cabin” and characterizes the move as “making a play for corporate road warriors.”

It’s a messaging challenging for sure. In a telling AdWeek interview, JetBlue marketing SVP Marty St. George explained why the company decided that pushing back against the perception that these changes amount to a betrayal of loyal customers was a lost cause: “it’s so complicated to explain, there’s no way to win that argument in social media.”

Maybe so. But a quick look at Facebook comment threads on the company’s subsequent press release post indicates that its team is very actively countering that idea:

The point is that the brand tried to pull off a slight re-adjustement without compromising the identity it has worked to hard to attain.

Did it work? Looks like a wash from here.