Home > Business, Editorial > That’s So Song: Anatomy of a Failure Pt. 1

That’s So Song: Anatomy of a Failure Pt. 1

“A lot of people ask us, ‘You got to be crazy. You’re starting an airline in the worst environment in the history of US commercial aviation.’ We were and we are.”

Upon watching an episode of “Frontline” recently during a class on mass communications, I was introduced to a story. This story was of an airline named Song, and how it took to the skies as a subsidiary of Delta to complete with “Hip” airlines such as Jetblue.

Song was certainly classy if anything else. Seats came with satellite television, fight trackers, an MP3 Dock. Passengers could play trivia games against each other or take part in an in-flight fitness program. Healthy and organic food was offered. Non-alcoholic drinks were free, and the crew sang safety instructions. If there was ever an airline for young Hipsters, this was it. Even the flight crew uniforms were designed by popular fashion guru, Kate Spade.

Since the airline naturally emphasized fashion, the marketing team targeted women and emphasized the soul of this new airline. The expensive features weren’t even featured in ads for the airline. The advertising team was clearly exited about their risky campaign, and were wholly confident the airline would break out in the weak industry.

The documentary was filmed and aired in 2004.

Song’s last flight took off April 30, 2006.

So what happened? Bankruptcy forced Delta to merge the brand back into its fold, retrofitting the planes back to Delta standards. All this was before the recent economic crash mind you. But simply put, the risk to break out from the “clutter,” as the documentary called it, was misguided.

In a stable point in Delta’s history and our economy, this marketing campaign might have worked. Maybe women and stylish people would have made Song their airline of choice. It’s doubtful, but it’s possible to create a small niche in the industry. But not in the 00s.

Marketing-wise, the 00s were all about features. The bigger the checklist of positives towards a product, the more likely it would be successful. The iPod is stylish, can hold a lot of music, is sturdy, multi-tasking — it’s the defining product of the decade. Sure, the stylish part helps, a lot in Apple’s case, but the features sold the product.

Song was strictly selling style. In this case, I would have either gone with a “memorable” ad campaign, or a features-oriented one. Show an ad with the flight attendants singing the safety information, or show the in-flight fitness program and give the tagline “This isn’t your parent’s airline.” That’s how you stand out. You show something that nobody else has, or at least something that nobody knows about. Does Jetblue have an in-flight fitness program? If it does, I surely don’t know about it.

Granted, even this might have failed in that climate, but the point is that Song didn’t stand out. Before watching the documentary, I’d never heard of Song and that’s ultimately the fault of the marketing company. If you’re walking down the streets of New York City and somebody passes you with a giant balloon in Time Square with the name of an upcoming show named “Glee” in May of 2009, that’s going to stand out from the towering billboards advertising “Terminator: Salvation.” Ultimately, a lot of Glee’s success can be traced right back to those early days of marketing, and that continued campaign.

But frankly, I found watching the Frontline episode with the knowledge of Song’s demise kind of humorous and ironic. Another unmarked and forgotten grave sent courtesy of media and advertising.

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