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Get Real: How a Phony Experience Kills a Brand.
By Rick Hendrie
Monday, 14th February 2005
 
"If you're flying Song for the first time, thanks for choosing us. You're about to see how it's possible to have a great experience at a great price. (Really.) And if you've flown with us before, thanks for coming back. You're about to see how many different ways you can experience your trip.

Because at Song, we believe you shouldn't have to check your personality with your bags. Flying time should always be, well, your time. So sit back, enjoy the show, and enjoy the ride."

I'm flying Song south from Boston to Fort Lauderdale. I chose it because it had the lowest fare. I found out, when I sat down, there are other purported benefits that separate this little bird from the others. It claims to offer 'an experience', shared in a breezy conversational tone, promising that I won't have to check my personality with my bags. It puts its rubber tires further in its mouth by stating that I should 'sit back, enjoy the show, and enjoy the ride.'

Ennnnhhhhhhhh, "Wrong Answer". The check- in people looked frazzled and spent as much time chastising customers to 'come forward when their zone was called' (What genius thought of calling groups of guests, 'zones'?). As While waiting, I watched a cute animated video of chess-like pawns acting out how courteous customers should get the hell out of the way and in their seats so that the pawns behind them can get by.

Our flight attendants made that video come alive. They cajoled a middle aged couple to get out of the aisle, by doing an uncanny impression of the hall monitor in elementary school. It seems to me the only person who has the right to get impatient is me. Flight attendants are supposed to alleviate road rage, not impersonate Nurse Diesel.

Safely ensconced in my seat, I proceeded to read Song's 'happy guide', consisting of menus, entertainment choices and legally required copy, written in a cute-as-pie style. I learn my flight is 'a show', offering unspoken varieties of experience. Well, guess what? It wasn't. Now, mind you, the rest of the flight was fine, in the typical all-flights-go-about-the- same-pattern kind of way. What's the problem? The promise was phony.

It's a great example of Marketing creating an idea with personality, but not having the clout or the buy-in of Operations to execute it. Song talks the experience game, but they serve up the same old chilled croissant sandwiches made sometime last week. What's the result? A consumer (me) filled with a combination of derisive laughter and cynical fury. Just one more example of a promise made with advertising copy that is dashed by reality. I don't think Song even knows what is wrong. It simply kept most of its old, crusty, decrepit Delta culture and wrapped it in creamy colors of grape, orange sherbet, sky blue and pea soup green. There is nothing memorable about this experience except for its utter fakery.

Now, as I sit, amazed at the artless artificiality of Song, I read in the New York Times about the just- opened Princess Court at the new World of Disney store in Manhattan. Little girls and their mothers, aunts, grandmothers or other familial types pay up to $80 to "sing and dance like a princess and give us jewels and stuff," according to one of the young royalty-in-training.

Now, here is a brilliant piece of marketing, where the promise of princess-hood, replete with tutoring on the four qualities every princess needs to exhibit — plus faux crowns, tea parties et al — is delivered in spades. Note, the experience that's been orchestrated is without any basis in reality, yet for these kids and their families it's irrevocably real. The lesson is that to be 'true,' the piece of retail theater you create and present must be internally consistent from beginning to end. The better you understand your audience, and the truer you are to your story, the more likely it is that you'll create a successful retail experience, whose memory lasts and lives on in word-of-mouth promotion.

Will I fly Song again? Sure, if the price is right. But, that's not a defensible position. Will Song survive? My bet is no.

Richard K. Hendrie
Chief Experience Officer
LINK INC.
617-335-1011

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