Why Spirit Airlines' HATE Campaign is a WinBy Lindsay Bell

We talk a lot about reputation management on Spin Sucks.

How to deal with an online crisis.

What to do if one of your employees accidentally *koff* tweets porn.

How you must own the story before the story owns you.

And how, in most cases, the best way to resolve an online hate explosion is to apologize.

I mean, really apologize. Not the, “It’s too bad you feel that way, but..” kind of apology, but a real, heartfelt sorry.


What if you had the cojones to turn the hate into a cheeky marketing campaign?

That’s exactly what Spirit Airlines did, to great effect, in my humble opinion.

Spirit Airlines and Social Hate

If you’re not familiar with Spirit Airlines, they are “…an ultra-low cost airline of the Americas and Home of the Bare Fare.”

You pay for your flight.

That’s it.

Want anything else? You pay for it. Bringing a small piece of carry-on luggage? You pay for it. Water? Pay. Legroom? Yup. You pay for that too.

This type of low-rent travel is fairly common in Europe, not so much in America. U.S. travelers aren’t really… used to the concept yet.

Oh, they love the cheap flights. They just don’t love paying for the extras. And boy. Do they rant about it.

Spirit Airlines


Spirit Airlines


Spirit Airlines

Embrace the Hate!

Trust me. There were others far worse, but they contained swears and inappropriate euphemisms. Gini Dietrich doesn’t allow swears. I’m not sure about inappropriate euphemisms, but I wasn’t going to take the risk.

So, you have an *ultra* low rate airline, where, incidentally, the captain actually picked up the phone one day because no one else was in yet! LOL That’s pretty indicative of how bare-bones they are. And you have angry customers complaining about less than stellar service and extra fees.

But here’s the thing. They don’t pretend to be anything else. They make it very clear on their website that what you see is what you get. And they deliver what they promise you they are going to deliver – lower rates than the larger, ‘all-in’ airlines with massive overheads could ever deliver.

So, they decided to do something quite innovative – and a whole lot risky: They embraced the hate!

In a recent FastCompany.com article, their vice president of marketing, Bobby Schroeter, addressed the campaign thusly:

Some people don’t get it. They’re expecting the all-inclusive pricing that most legacy airlines charge. So when their experience isn’t what they were expecting, they like to vent. And the way a lot of people vent today is through tweets. Rather than pretend those tweets don’t exist, we decided to embrace them. While we are serious about saving people money on air travel, and providing a clean and safe flight, we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously that we can’t address some humorous vents from Twitter.

And address them they did! They created a hilarious, very cheeky little ditty that I call, well, “HATE”.

You can watch it below.

They also created a website called H8TEThousandMiles.com where people can come and vent their rage about Spirit, or about any other airline (they’re NOT stupid!).

Leave a rant, get 8,000 free Spirit Miles.

They kinda sorta apologize on the H8TEThousandMiles site – saying, “Airlines mess up, but at least Spirit Airlines is willing to admit it!”

They are also offering customer incentives, a token to soothe the savage beasts.

But NO WHERE do I see them ever saying “sorry.”

H8TEThousandMiles is a Win-Win

I think this approach rocks in a number of ways.

  • People want to be special. We all have huge egos, and squee a bit when we get our 15 minutes of fame. By highlighting certain tweets, those people are maybe fans again. At worst they will tell their friends and share the heck out of the video. At best they will give them another shot.
  • Humor works. I don’t know if the people in the video are just talented employees, or hired via a talent agency, but either way the casting is perfect. They are average Joes. And they’re funny. The writing is and delivery is really well done, and the cheeky graphics (phallic airplanes, anyone?) and bleeping out swears add a youthful touch that will appeal to what I assume are their primary target audience. Younger people. College kids. Hipsters who want to travel but can’t afford first class yet.
  • They aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. In no part of the video do they push back, or make fun of the people who posted the tweets. They take it fully on the chin. They’re breaking the ice. Putting themselves out there in their sandwich boards saying “Yeah, we do kinda suck sometimes!”. They are self-deprecating and make fun of themselves, which for this gal is a win. It’s a very appealing approach, and one that has earned them huge amounts of free advertising from earned media hits.

I said “win” above. Now I say “win-WIN!”

What do you think of their approach? Do you think it’s clever? Would you ever try something as risky as Embrace the Hate?

Image courtesy of planespotters.net

Lindsay Bell

Lindsay Bell is the content director at V3 Marketing, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank Dawge, a Vizsla/Foxhound/moose hybrid. Ok, maybe not moose.

View all posts by Lindsay Bell