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    Tom Dougherty CEO, Stealing Share

    Tom Dougherty is the President and CEO of Stealing Share, Inc., and has helped national and global brands such as Lexus, IKEA and Tide steal market share over his 25-year career.

    An often-quoted source on business and brands, he has been featured recently by the New York Times and CNN, discussing topics ranging from television to Apple to airlines.

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Southwest Transfarency too clever

The image of the national airlines is so bad that when travelers were enduring long lines and delayed flights because of a Southwest Airlines computer glitch yesterday, we barely batted an eye. We expect the worst from our airlines – even from one of the most likable of all the airlines.

We at Stealing Share have long lamented the inability of airlines to create preference beyond ticket prices, loyalty programs and gate availability. The only brand that has come close is Southwest because it has basically positioned itself against all other airlines. Its advertising, as I’ve said before, comes this-close to saying that the other airlines are crooks.

It is, for that reason, that I’m not into their new campaign called Transfarency, a name the airline has admitted it made up and is supposed to state that Southwest is transparent with “nothing to hide.”

The idea of Southwest Transfarency is right because, like a lot of Southwest’s messages, it suggests that other airlines are not transparent. Anyone who has flown on any kind of regular basis would certainly agree with that. How airlines come up with ticket prices is more bewildering than how costs are created at the gas pump.

For example, if I fly from Greensboro to Charlotte to Orlando, say, it is less expensive than simply taking the direct flight from Charlotte to Orlando. How does that happen?

Cleverness is the enemy of all marketing.

Therefore, the idea of Southwest Transfarency is spot on. But the name itself is far too clever, and cleverness is always your enemy in marketing and branding messages. Clever sounds like it was written by Madison Avenue and, therefore, not believable. When you become clever, it just sounds like marketing and not of this world.

The idea of Transfarency is right, but the word is too clever to be believable.
The idea of Transfarency is right, but the word is too clever to be believable.

The best themelines are ones that are in spoken language, like Apple’s “Think Different” and Nike’s “Just Do It.” Those are believable because they state exactly and clearly what the brand and those who use that brand stand for.

Transfarency sounds like something an ad agency sold to the airline without thinking whether it would resonate or not. (I can see the boardroom response now: “Wow. That’s clever!”) Even if Southwest says, “We’re all about being open and honest with customers and making sure pesky fees stay away from our low fares,” that’s not really being transparent.

Now there’s an idea. Why not show how those fares are created and simply use the spoken word “Transparent”? That would resonate in the market and would help Southwest Airlines say once again that the other airlines are thieves.

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