Remember that really cheeky ad Southwest released as a response to Northwest’s claim on being No. 1 way back in 1992. Wouldn’t you want to know what really happened then?
Roger Weller, the Principal at Sky Blu branding was the copy writer who worked on this ad then. And he has agreed to take Brand Touchpoints on a walk down his memory lane.
Off the top of my head, here’s what I can tell you about how the ad came to be.
Both the print ad and the TV spot were created with my art director partner, Lisa Howard. We were at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago. We got the assignment exactly because of what the ad said happened. At the time, Southwest was not considered a “major” airline. These were the days when all the legacy US carriers – American, United, Delta, Northwest, TWA – were still in their heyday.
Southwest was just busting out of their “regional startup” status, growing by leaps and bounds. But still well below the majors in size. And they did in fact achieve the best rating for on-time performance. Northwest Airlines had the second best rating. But they figured that Southwest didn’t really count, even though the US Department of Transportation included Southwest and rated them best. So Northwest decided to take out an ad giving themselves credit for being number 1. That really pissed-off a lot of people at Southwest, including the Chairman/CEO, Herb Kelleher. We were asked to come up with a few ideas, in case they wanted to respond.
We presented the ideas (I can’t honestly remember what the others were) but I do recall that when I read the ”Liar, Liar” ad to Herb Kelleher he let loose with a big, deep belly laugh, and yelled “Let’s do it!”
Herb was very directly involved in advertising decisions. He almost always went for the more irreverent ideas. He knew it was great for internal moral, as much as it was good for building customer affinity and loyalty.
By the way, there’s also a 30-second TV spot that was created along the full-page print ad. The spot basically mirrored the print ad.
A very dry, corporate-sounding voice over speaks the exact words of the headline. The camera, in close on the surface of a long mahogany board room table, slowly travels up to the head where the chairman sits. ”After lengthy consideration…… we have arrived at an official response to ….” We arrive at the end of the table and pan up to the chairman, who stares directly at the papers in his hands. With deep, thoughtful seriousness, and after an appropriate pause, he reads directly from his notes: “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” He looks up at the camera just long enough to break a slight smile.
What happened after releasing this ad?
After we ran the full page in the daily papers of virtually every big city Southwest and Northwest both served, Herb got a letter from the CEO of Northwest congratulating him and Southwest for being number 1 in on time performance, and for correcting the record in such a light-hearted, but unequivocal way. Also, years later I learned that a framed copy of the print ad hung behind the desk of the under secretary in charge of airline claims enforcement at the US Department of Transportation.
Thanks for letting me take a stroll down career memory lane.
I can’t help but draw parallels between Herb and Sir Richard Branson. Southwest Airlines and The Virgin group have a sense of similarity in their brand DNA and this is drilled down to all employees. I would define this as boldness. And boldness allows them to be quirky in all their actions which separate them from others.
Thanks Roger for a great story!