How Airline Marketing Will Change Your World
I was thinking – and that’s always a bad sign. It’s a bad sign like the moon turning red, or a bad moon rising, or a dog howling in the night. Normally my thinking is usually a harbinger of bad things to come – not necessarily really bad things, but you know, things that cause normal people to howl in the night.
So anyway, I was thinking back to my college days. Now remember, my recollection of my college days is a big fuzzy because it’s been a long time. It seems to me though that those who were after MBAs were they type who were affected by avarice more than us Liberal Arts type, who were affected more by a great need to save Hudarian seals or the rain forests in Bolivia.
Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to save seals or rescue rain forests, I’m sure these are still honorable pursuits. But the truth is they don’t pay well. As one matures one gets it. You can’t eat or put a roof over your head chasing seals or running up to a crazed lumberjack and grabbing him by the neck trying to save a tree. It’s dangerous for one thing – he has a chain saw and you don’t. And grabbing lumberjacks by the neck doesn’t pay very well – unless your funded by some secret tree-saving society – it doesn’t pay at all. So while I’m a huge fan of both seals and trees, I decided long ago to leave the saving of those kinds of things to those blonde-haired, yuppie kids of very wealthy parents. Not only does it allow them to rebel against their parents – a healthy activity for children of all ages – but it allows them to develop a sense of identity separate from their polo-playing, cocktail-swilling, jet-setting parents.
Getting back to where I was about MBA candidates…
I knew this one guy, his name is Justin. Justin was a marketing major; now he is just rich. He used to effuse eloquently – for a business major, at least – about how the marketing gurus of Madison Avenue could sell Facebook to a bunch of nuns holed up in Tibet. That’s an anachronism, by the way. And I actually believe he was correct. It seems to me that people are more anxious than ever before to be led somewhere by someone, anyone, regardless of who it is or what it is. Humanity is so ripe for people of Justin’s ilk.
I was reading in today’s USA Today where American Airlines passed out vouchers for FREE flights to those whose travel plans were delayed, disrupted or canceled by this winter’s severe weather. When the recipients of those free vouchers tried to used them, American Airlines charged them a $30 use fee. That’s really good-thinking. The airlines charge for everything else, why not a fee for using a free voucher. It seems that those who were charged that $30 “use fee” for using their free vouchers didn’t think it was good-thinking at all. In fact they thought it was a rip-off and filed a class-action lawsuit – Americans are so litigious! – and, much to the chagrin of American Airline’s deft marketeers, the people won. So no more charging a person $30 for using a “free” voucher.
This made me start thinking about things. If you’ve flown anywhere in the past seven or eight years or so, you know that airlines charge you for many things:
$30 per checked-bag
$10 for a pillow
$10 for blanket
$5 for a Coke
$5 for a bottle of water
$2 for a tiny bag of airline peanuts – not the same as Circus Peanuts which are worth $2
$5 for headphones so you can actually hear the movie you’re watching
$10 per hour of in-flight Internet access.
$7 to de-lice you. (Just made that one up.)
And if you need to change your ticket, you’ll pay from $50 to $150 to do it.
The marketing guys have a field day with this, of course. Airlines advertise cheap fares – like $98.00 round-trip from Los Angeles to New York. A bunch of you are reading this thinking the fare from Los Angeles to New York is so low because nobody wants to go to either Los Angeles or New York. But actually, you’d be surprised. Charlie Sheen often flies from Los Angeles to New York because the women are friendlier. Donald Trump flies from New York to Los Angeles a lot because it’s closer to China. But to be honest, Donald Trump has his own jet so he has no affect on airfares. I was just name-dropping, which is nothing at all like bird-dropping.
The airlines make more money renting blankets, pillows, and headphones to passengers, and from selling peanuts and Pepsi Cola, and charging for luggage than they ever made from taking you from wherever you are to wherever you want to go. It’s sheer marketing genius – and it won’t be long before other industries adopt the genius of airlines’ marketing to use as a pricing model for their own businesses.
We live in a world where reality is becoming more and more obscured by instant virtual reality (an oxymoron); it won’t be long before the low price you see will never be the low price you pay. It’s genius I tell you…
The marketing gurus know us better than we know ourselves.They’re always thinking of ways to make us pay more while kidding ourselves we’re paying less.
I’m reminded of an experiment some savvy research company conducted at a big grocery store on the East Coast. They put Campbell’s Soup on “sale” for $2.00 per can. Anyone who knows soup knows that a can of Campbell’s soup shouldn’t cost $2.00 per can, and I don’t care if it has a “bisque” in its name or not – not even turtle bisque is worth $2.00 a can. So consumers proved they were smarter than the marketing gurus – or so it seemed. Another marketing guru, who I’ll call Melissa just because I feel like it, decided she could sell the store’s entire stock of soup with another trick used by marketeers called the “limit trick.” Melissa outsmarted the consumers. She knew he store couldn’t sell the soup for $2.00 a can, but she also knew they’d be able to sell the soup for $2.00 a can if they changed the “sale” sign to read: “Campbell’s Soup: 5 for $10.00 – Limit 10”. The soup sold out in one day. Now all of you who think I’m making that up need to read the news, because – I’m sorry to say – that actually happened. Don’t hang your heads in shame – we consumers just can’t help it. We’re match challenged because our educational system is falter.
I digress. Once news of this particular grocery store’s shenanigans became public, people armed themselves and raided the grocery store and held the place hostage. No, they really didn’t do that. But the grocery store suffered great embarrassment, closed its doors, and is now doing business in Racine, Wisconsin as Wally’s Food World. And I did make this part up; don’t go a-googling.
The American consumer is not the brightest when it comes to finding real bargains. I’m not being condescending, I’m just being honest. And the marketing people know this. It’s good news for Madison Avenue and all those who are studying marketing at Harvard and Yale because it gives these Ivy League scholars their charmed lives yet another perk – to start off with a six-figure income right out of college. You gotta love yuppies.
I’m betting that it won’t be long before some of the brightest of these Ivy League MBAs recognize that the airlines’ pricing model would be a good fit for many other businesses. Think of how the airlines’ pricing model could be used in grocery stores – low food prices if you pay $10 for the shopping cart, $5 for each shopping bag, a stock fee for restocking the shelves, etc. The airlines’ pricing model would fit in well with the hotel industry too Think of it! You get a deluxe room in a five-star hotel for just $15 – you just have to pay extra for heat and/or air conditioning, sheets, pillows, mattresses, chairs, lights, electricity, blankets, hot water, and a $5.50 potty fee each time you flush the toilet. Of course you’re welcome to use yesterday’s newspaper – or if you’re feeling posh, the hotel would provide you with toilet paper for just $12.50 a roll – or two for $25 – limit 4.
The airline pricing model would work well for many businesses, but it would be a perfect pricing model for restaurants. Imagine a new restaurant chain called “Outlet Eats”. Nice name. It has “cheap” written all over it…and the “Eats” adds a cozy down-home feeling, don’t you think? Imagine the allure of a steak or seafood dinner for two for just $5.00.
It’s only a matter of time before the airline model becomes the restaurant model. Just you wait and see…
So you walk into Outlet Eats and you’re shocked to find it has a swell genuine yuppie ambiance, complete with environmentally friendly candles on flickering on each table – and booth. The martie d greats you and asks where you’d like to sit. You say you’d like a booth, because you have a hot date and booths hide a lot of hanky panky. The martie d, says booths are $10 per person, and you, not wanting to look like a cheap sap, say OK. You offer $20 to martie d but he says the charge will be added to your bill. You’re already adding up the bill in your head because the lady you’re with is only worth so much.
So far you’ve only got $25.00 invested, so you figure you’re just a tad over what you’d have paid at Wendy’s – where you really wanted to go in the first place – if you got large Frostys with your triple-cheeseburgers. And Wendy’s doesn’t have candles on the tables or dimly lit booths – or any kind of ambiance – yuppie or otherwise.
You sit down, the lady sits down and you both get comfy …and wait. Finally, a server – actually a waitress – brings your menu – and everything on it is amazingly cheap. Your date, who’s a typical female, is bubbling over with affection for you because you’re a man who has an eye for a bargain. You’re head just about explodes with delight and you think to yourself, “it’s gonna be a really great night”.
Ladies like bargains. You see by the menu that the dinner for two can be a mix and match deal – filet mignon and fresh Flappiano cedar-plank salmon for $5.00. And these are full dinners – not ala carte – For $5.00 you get two entrées served with your choice of potato, (the mandatory) steamed broccoli florets, and a dinner salad replete with artichoke hearts and sweet and sour house dressing.
Your gal buddy is amazed and you’re gloating. You’re feeling pretty preemie. And the booth is snuggly too -dimly lit by candle light, cushy high-back bench seats. It’s prefect, and you’re sure it will enhance a really romantic dinner with added spice of a little smoozing and canoodling.
Whew! It’s getting really warm in here.
You order the filet and she orders the salmon. You want to show her right up front you’re not afraid of fat or cholesterol, and if you could smoke, you’d light up a Camel. You want her to know you’re a REAL man and a really smart and thrifty guy. You’re a man’s man and every woman’s dream – and you know it. You drool self-confidence. As you try to avert your gaze from the woman’s lady parts, you lift your lurid eyes liltingly, and lovingly lap up the lavish environs with increasingly amorous eyes. You’re literally loving yourself to pieces for being such an alluring and affable cad.
The waitress shows you a rather brief but serviceable wine list and you select a good Galápagos Rose’ — and you want to show your beautiful date that you’re not only a real man, a smart man, a thrifty man, but you’re also an astute oenologist as well. You don’t like rose’, but you figure the lady doesn’t do red, so you order pink to placate. You remember your etiquette – placate before you ply.
By now you’re so excited you can hardly keep your feet still. You feel them sliding out of your penny loafers and you find you simply can’t control them. If you weren’t so excited about the cheap prices and the anticipation of a really exciting evening, you’d be going to the doctor Monday suspecting you might be coming down with RFS (Restless Foot Syndrome).
Alas, as The Brothers Grimm so often grimly noted – all good things must come to an end.
The server brings the bottle of rose’ and sets it on the table between you and your companion. The waitress stands there solemnly as you and your lovely, liquid-eyed lady friend stare wantonly at the unopened, but alluring wine bottle – it’s a 2007 vintage Galápagos Rose’ – which cost only $3.50 a bottle – a virtual steal at that price.
The waitress waits, which is what waitresses do. She is patient if not attractive. You look at the wine bottle, while your lady friend looks at you. Is it getting warm in here? you wonder. You finally realize the waitress is waiting not as a profession but waiting for you to ask her to open the wine.
You give in.
“Would you mind opening the wine, please?” The waitress who’s been waiting on you to ask, says that she can open the wine but it will be cost you $3.50 extra. You are just about to catch on that the airline model of pricing is being adopted by this restaurant, but like most horrific realizations, your mind resists and you dawdle on in your temporary, romantic bliss.
You tell the waitress to go ahead and open the wine, which she does and as she adds $3.50 to your tab – and you add it to the tab you’re keeping in your mind. Your underarms become sweaty despite the TV advertising which promised dry armpits even if you should encounter a raging, rabid bull. Your bill is now $28.50 and you have an uneasy feeling that it’s going to get higher. Much higher.
The wine is open and you tell your lovely lady to wait a moment to let the wine breathe. Her eyes flutter with admiration for you — until now she had no idea wine needed to breathe. You’re really tempted to pick up the bottle and take a long pull even while the wine is still breathing, but you don’t want to offend the woman you’ve tried to so hard to impress. The waitress is waiting again and this time you don’t hesitate; you’re catching on. “How much for two empty glasses?” The waitress says, “$3.50 each for plastic or $7.50 each for crystal.” You sure don’t want to seem to be a chum, so you say, “two crystal glasses, please.” Your loving lady in enraptured by your lavishness and acknowledges it by batting her inch-long artificially enhanced eyelashes. You swoon.
You total up the tab in your mind. You figure it’s now up to $43.50. You swill the first glass of wine and pour a second, while in the meantime your beautiful friend is sipping her first glass very ladylike. Quite disappointing – for $43.50. At least so far.
But the evening is not over yet. Hope springs anew.
The waitress brings the salads, sets them on the table, and leaves quickly. You realize you don’t have silverware and your waitress isn’t in sight. You start picking at the artichokes with your fingers, but quickly stop when you look at your date and see she’s watching you. You don’t want to seem to be a baboon. You put your hands in your lap, but realize that’s not a swell idea either, so you put them on the table and scootch them over toward her hands and pat her soft, never-seen-a-day’s-work hands tenderly.
After a short wait, the waitress brings the salmon and fillet dinners – each on their own sizzling plates. Everything looks wonderful, smells wonderful, and probably tastes wonderful, however you’re hesitant to pick up the sizzling meat with your hands and tear into it like a Neanderthal. You’ve already picked at your salad with your fingers and your date looked a bit disgusted when she saw you stuffing artichokes in you mouth with greasy fingers. You realize you are not being very romantic — so you resist the urge to attack the steak with your fingers. You really don’t know how wonderful the food tastes and neither does your now slightly tipsy and ever-more-skeptical lady friend. The waitress, who is very good at this game, comes back and stands waiting for you to ask the inevitable question. And since it’s inevitable, you ask: “May we have some silverware, please?”.
The waitress is almost bubbling as she rattles off the litany of silverware prices:
Spoon $2.00 each
Fork $3.50 each
Butter knife $3.50 each
Steak knife $6.00 each
You look over at your at your lovely friend and figure she won’t need a steak knife, she can cut the darn fish with a spoon – or, better yet, with a fork. But you are going to need a steak knife and you’re both going to need forks. You realize you lucked-out because neither of you ordered soup – though you were tempted by the turtle bisque, you didn’t give into your temptations – as you want to save them all up for later. You offhandedly dismiss the spoons as unnecessary. You order two forks ($7.00) and two steak knives – in case the salmon is tougher than it looks ($12.00). As the waitress scurries off to fetch the silverware you add to the tab in your head — beads of sweat are forming on your brow, and you fear you’re face is turning ashen… $62.50. You pray your lovely friend’s on a diet and doesn’t want dessert.
You both finish your dinners and you realize that you’re already paying $62.50 for a $5.00 dinner for two, and you are now far too stressed to even attempt playing footsies. You begin to realize that the $20 you paid for this semi-secluded romantic love nest may well have been wasted. You’ve not smoozed or canoodled once.
The night is quickly spiraling downward; you have a feeling you’re saving all your temptations for nothing and the night is turning into a disaster.
But the food is good. You both eat voraciously – allowing the food to distract you from each other – which is the way it should be with good food.
The waitress clears the table, and looks at your fair lady and asks her if she wants to see the dessert menu – and of course she does. It’s another truncated menu, like all the menus at Outlet Eats, but it has some interesting selections. Her mouth is watering…finally. Unfortunately, your hopes are dashed as she chooses the TCMD2: a triple-chocolate mountain of decadence for two – just $3.50. Sounds like a great deal and the evening has not gone very well so far – and probably won’t. You figure adding another $3.50 to bill might ease her disappointment maybe make it turn out a little sweeter for you.
Of course, the TCMD2 comes without spoons. The waitress brings you the dreamy chocolate concoction, nicely served up in a frosty metal bowl. It’s oozing with decadence like you are, and covered with frost, like she is.
The waitress stands dutifully next to the table and this time you know what she is waiting for: You have no spoons. You’re thinking you might share a spoon – it’s romantic…and it’s cheap. What’s more romantic than swapping saliva? You recall that spoons are $2.00 each. But you splurge and order two spoons so you can both dig in to that mountain of delight, which has already started to melt, forming a chocolaty puddle in the pewter. The sooner you help her finish this dessert the sooner you can get out of here and try to salvage something from this evening.
You tabulate. The bill is now $66.50 for a $5.00 dinner for two.
You finish the dessert and ask the waitress for the bill. You’re now beginning to expect that she will charge you for delivering the bill. The waitress whisks away the empty bowl and spoons and returns with the bill and doesn’t charge you.
Just when you think you’re about ready to get out of this mess, your lady friend decides she’d really like a cup of coffee. You try to hide your disappointment with a grimace – you had the bill in your hand – you were just seconds away from getting out of here and maybe have time for a little canoodling elsewhere.
Without sneaking a glance at the bill, you ask the waitress if she could bring a cup of coffee for your friend. The waitress looks a bit miffed; her mustache nearly hides her scowl. She swipes the bill from the table like a crazed, starving eagle snatching a wounded mouse from a field. A minute later she returns with the coffee. And as you fear your lady friend wants cream and sugar — and another spoon.
Sugar $1 per packet
Cream $1 per serving
“I need 3 sugars and 2 creams – and another spoon,” your lovely dinner date says, this time without even the slightest hint of a smile. You’re not smiling now either as you tabulate your date just cost you another $7. Your mind is working…. you tabulate the bill which you figure to be $73.50 …for a $5 dinner for two.
She oohs and aahs and tells you how great the coffee is – “It’s better than Starbucks!”, she squeals. You have to really try hard to keep from making crude yuppie jokes. Still,, you can’t help rolling your eyes. You try to cover it up by acting as if a fruit fly had flown up under your eyelid. She looks at you expectantly, but unfortunately you have nothing witty to say.
The waitress clears the table, sets the bill down and walks away. You pick it up and find your limited math skills challenged – $73.50 plus 20% gratuity equals — you grab your cell phone with the calculator. Percentages baffle you – $14.70 is the tip. You add $73.50 plus $14.70 in your head, and you guess the total correctly. It’s robust: $88.20.
You have $100 in cash with you.
You both leave the booth which once held such sweet promises of surreptitious canoodling, and walk to the cashier. The cashier grins says “good evening”, and smirks. He asks how your dinners were. You lie and say OK. Actually it was OK, your steak was tender and the salmon went down swimmingly. “You kind of nickel-and-dime people here, don’t you?”, you want to say but don’t. The guy rings up the bill – $88.20 exactly as you tabulated. You hand him five twenties. He says there’s a $10 charge for using cash… You try not to react and start to slide out you Amex card. He sees what you are doing and quickly tells you there’s a $7 service charge for using Amex, and a $5 service fee for MasterCard and $5 for Visa. But, wait! If you sign up right now for an Outlet Eats BFF Visa card, there’s no extra service charge –ever. Baffled, you say “No thanks” and tell him to keep your five twenties and the $1.50 change. You and your beautiful date friend leave Outlet Eats….
As you’re driving back to her place, you notice you’re low on gas. She, always the bargain hunter spots a sign that says “Bill’s Gas Outlet”. You chortle at that name. It conjures up all sorts of funny images. Another sign says “SAVE BIG! GAS JUST $1 A GALLON. Your lady friend literally cannot sit still at the site of such a bargain…. and she grabs the wheel and almost steers you right into a pump.
You stop the car and get out wondering how Bill’s Outlet can possibly sell gasoline so cheaply…. You are not paying Bill or his outlet $35 for the use of a siphoning hose… And you don’t even want to know how much it costs to use the pump.