Halloween: Is Your Brand In Character?
As Jerry Seinfeld might say, “What’s the deal with Halloween?” It used to be a holiday for kids. Dress up after school, hit the neighbors’ houses, shock your young body with a sugar high in the moment, and enjoy the candy that your parents mete out one at a time after dinner until it runs out sometime around Thanksgiving.
Of course, Halloween is now a major holiday for adults as well. Coors Light helped this along, with the brilliant “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” campaign in the 80’s, but Halloween’s move to the number three drinking holiday in America after New Year’s Eve and Saint Patrick’s Day was already well under way.
Halloween is everywhere, in the workplace, on college campuses, in the bars and restaurants, everywhere. I’m not a big masquerader myself, but I’m all for injecting some fun and irreverence into everyday life.
Yet the other day, as I was boarding a flight at LAX, the Halloween decorations adorning all the American Airline gates struck a sour note. It all seemed contrived, forced and a bit cheap. Not to mention that I stopped equating airlines with fun quite a long time ago.
Still, I couldn’t help but flash back to a night few years earlier and a very different reaction to an airline getting into the Halloween spirit.
Boarding a Southwest Airlines flight from Burbank to Phoenix on a Halloween night, I was greeted by a flight attendant dressed as one sexy witch. (Being married at the time and just a few years older than this woman, I can categorically deny any attraction. Innocent, wholesome amusement. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) The other flight attendants were also in costume and in character as they served the passengers.
After a long, tough day that couldn’t end soon enough, I might not have been amused. But on this night, the Halloween celebration added a lot of fun to the flight, which also included the best announcement ever broadcast by a flight attendant:
“After take off, I’ll be dimming the cabin lights, because I look so much better in the soft light.”
Back at LAX in the present day, I wondered why these reactions of mine were so different.
And I realized it was all a matter of brand personality and context. Southwest gives you what you pay for. They’re a cattle car with wings all right, but they don’t pretend to be anything else. They get you from one place to another cheaply and efficiently, and treat you pretty well within those parameters. They’re not “classy” and they don’t fake it, like United or American still do, trying to evoke the glory days of air travel.
The Southwest personality is young, fun, spontaneous and down to earth. They might jam you into crowded planes, but they still stand for “freedom.” I would think that corporate had encouraged flight attendants to dress up for Halloween, but somehow it all felt spontaneous, fresh and organic. The costumes had to be self-funded as well.
Sincerity in brand communications counts. A lot.
I know that cardboard pumpkin cutouts and orange crepe draped over a few gates won’t break the bank, but I sure wish that rather than trying to fake the fun to a largely business target that couldn’t care less, that they might try thinking about doing something meaningful for their customers.
More leg room, anyone?