Consumer Reports just released its annual airline rankings and Spirit Airlines ranked dead last on the list. Ben Baldanza, Spirit’s CEO, was perfectly fine with that, saying legroom, seat size and other airline amenities are not what Spirit is all about. Rather, lowest cost and shareholder value is how Spirit should be measured.

Perhaps he is actually on to something.

Spirit is all about no-nonsense cheap flights. It is very proud and self- effacing about this. Its seats are smaller and it has no beverage service, but its flights are full. Why?  Because Spirit is aiming for a specific audience – the bargain shopper.

ar130383785430026That does not mean Spirit is the most meaningful brand out there. But considering the current state of airline travel, Spirit isn’t any worse than the others. Spirit is at least being upfront about it.

We say all the time that brands have to resonate with people emotionally. For a great many of us, there is significant emotion tied up in saving money. For some, that trumps everything else. Those airline passengers feel they are the smart ones by going cheap. To them, it is not really worth a couple hundred dollars for more leg room and a beverage.

The power of brands is that, by their very nature, they should not be for everyone. This is the fundamental problem for airlines. No one knows whom United, Delta, or American are for. They just seem to be for everyone, which means they are emotionally for no one.

Spirit Airlines is not a brand for everyone, but I can’t deny the power of its brand for those it is trying to reach.