As spring finally arrives in Shanghai, I wanted to take a break from some of the heavier issues I usually explore to look at a cute new marketing campaign from Spring Airlines, the Shanghai-based budget carrier that everybody loves to hate. I should start by saying that I love the season called spring, but I’m personally no fan of Spring Airlines for reasons I’ll give shortly. But that said, I did find myself smiling when I read about the airline’s latest marketing campaign that reflects Shanghai’s increasingly creative spirit and sophistication.The new themed campaign has a distinctly British flavor, with Spring Airlines flight attendants outfitted to look like English butlers for men and chambermaids for women. (Chinese article) I’ll admit that the photo accompanying the campaign was what caught my attention in one media report, which I’ve posted at the top of this article. The photo at once has a certain silliness but also a bit of charm, with a cute young Chinese woman outfitted in a cap and apron playfully pulling on the tie of an equally charming young man dressed in butler’s attire.
Participating flight attendants will wear their normal uniforms for take-offs, and then put on their butler and chambermaid outfits once the flight is airborne. If you want to check out one of these themed rides, I’d advise checking first with Spring Airlines since the reports say only selected flights from Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport will take part in this new promotion. Perhaps these new butlers and chambermaids will bring some smiles to the faces of passengers who inevitably grumble when their flights are delayed by an hour or two, which is regular fare for Spring.
I was a bit surprised when I went to Spring Airlines’ website and couldn’t find any mention of the campaign, as it seemed like a cute and effective marketing tool and got a lot of publicity in the local Shanghai media. But perhaps that reflects the fact that many Chinese companies still don’t recognize a winner when they see it, and in this case Spring probably saw the gimmick as a one-time publicity stunt. I presume that many of its flight attendants are now sporting the new attire, though I’ll probably never find out since I have no plans to ever take a Spring Airlines flight again.
In some ways, this new campaign looks a bit similar to one from US-based Southwest Airlines, which was one of the earliest pioneers in the budget airline space. In its earlier days, Southwest was famous for encouraging whimsical behavior by its flight attendants. I remember being quite surprised the first time I encountered this gimmick, when a flight attendant decided to test out her karaoke skills and started to sing to all of the passengers over the intercom system during our flight. In another instance the flight attendants announced they would be offering “coffee, tea or valium” during the flight, poking gentle fun at nervous flyers like myself.
But at the end of the day, Southwest Airlines realized that comfortable and on-time flights were the most important factors for travelers, and made those elements central to its operations while forgoing other less important items like free meals. The same can’t be said of Spring Airlines, which has a reputation for uncomfortable planes, advertisements bombarding you from all directions, and worst of all, flights that are perpetually late.
I’ll admit that I’ve only flown on Spring Airlines twice, but that was more than enough to convince me it was worth the few extra hundred yuan to use other airlines in the future. One of my flights was 2 hours late, meaning we didn’t arrive at our destination until nearly midnight. Apart from that, my biggest impression was how uncomfortable the seats were, and the heavy presence of advertisements and other promotional materials on the planes.
At the end of the day, this clever butler and chambermaid marketing campaign may convince a few people to try Spring Arlines for the novelty factor. If I hadn’t flown on Spring before, I might even be tempted to give them a try now to check out this novelty. But any positive impressions from cutely dressed flight attendants is unlikely to win longer-term new customers who would prefer comfortable, clutter-free planes and on-time arrivals.
Still, I have to commend Spring for its effort with this campaign, and offer special praise to the ad agency that created the idea and the PR firm that attracted the media coverage. It’s these kinds of creative marketing companies that are the real winners in this Spring Airlines campaign, which showcases the growing sophistication of Shanghai’s locally-developed and increasingly slick marketing abilities.