Differentiation – Did Virgin America Airline’s Cancun afternoon sweat out all of the competition from United Airlines?

Airfare is expensive. If you have to fly, are you going to choose an airline that entertains you while you fly?

Gone are the days of watching flight attendants give boring speeches on securing your seatbelt and having your chair in the upright position. Perhaps airlines finally realized that air travelers don’t want to watch and listen to flight attendants who look like they would rather be anywhere else?

Introduce Virgin America, who debuted their new in-flight video last fall. The video, “Virgin American Safety Video #VXsafetydance” has close to ten million views on YouTube (1). The new video entails a snappy five-minute dance routine and song that explains the safety rules for flying.

Virgin America's Safety Dance

YouTube – Virgin America’s Safety Dance

The video falls in line with Virgin’s sleek image and sells the experience of flying with Virgin America. Another video is currently in the works. This go around, Virgin America had the idea to include real people in the video so they took to social media. People submitted their dance auditions. More than 7,000 tweets were received with the hashtag #vxsafetydance and 364 submissions through Instagram (1).

This summer, United Airlines followed with a release of their in-flight safety video titled Safety is global. United released the video with the following statement, “Buckle your seat belt and stow your tray tables – we are taking you around the globe with our new safety video. It’s clever, fresh, packed with fun surprises and most importantly, not boring. Safety is global and our number one priority, so please pay attention. We think you will rather enjoy it” (2).

YouTube - United Safety Video

United took a different approach to their video by pushing a more serious tone. The video portrays an all around the world sense of safety. I’m not sure if I personally agree with the statement that it’s not boring but…to each their own.

While the videos are quite different, they both take away from the once boring flight attendant speeches. Virgin followed up their success of the #VXsafetydance video with a new YouTube announcement of where Virgin is headed next. CoYouTube - Virgin America's Climate Controlntinuing with their sleek image, the company has paired up with Nest to allow more control for travelers to have more control over their experience. The video portrays Virgin’s sleek brand image while showing that their their focus is all about the experience for the traveler.

What other airline offers youyour own climate control? (3) Your choices for climate control include the following:

Virgin America Climate Poll

The two airlines are both active in social media. Whereas Virgin America tends to continue their sleek brand image in fun and witty videos, United takes a more staid and old fashion approach. High numbers are impressive on social media but they don’t mean everything. Driving engagement and communicating is more important.

Virgin America has taught us five things about social media:

  1. Know your audience – their ads, communications and videos reflect their brand, which is bold, casual and young.
  2. Taking challenges and being innovative – their new in-flight video says it all.
  3. Connect, don’t market – while on a flight, a passenger tweeted that he wasn’t happy that his meal hadn’t been delivered. The social media team contacted the aircraft and they delivered his misplaced meal.
  4. Make use of 3rd party applications – Virgin uses Hootsuite to organize all of their social media communication in one place
  5. Engage in social media with a genuine voice – They shared a lighthearted and funny article during the holiday season about travel being a beast. The purpose was to engage with travelers and connect with them. (4)United Broken Guitar

United is trying with a social media team but they are still trying to figure out how it all works. They have received public thank yous from travelers but they still are missing the mark in some instances. The famous broken guitar YouTube video burned United quite badly.

Their response to the horrible response time and mismanaged complaint was that they were merging with Continental Airlines and had to basically start over with social media (5). Perhaps they can spend some time reviewing what Virgin America is doing with their social media and learn from them? United Airlines has impressive numbers when you look at their social media. Now they just need to work on engagement and communication along with promoting their brand image.

(1) http://digiday.com/brands/virgin-americas-cabin-content-strategy/
(2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg
(3) http://blog.virginamerica.com/blog/new-feature-destination-acclimation-with-nest/?cid=sm_social_MON_331_11a__G&stop_mobi=yes
(4) http://blog.digitalinsights.in/social-media-lessons-virgin-america/05125887.html
(5) http://skift.com/2013/06/09/uniteds-social-media-efforts-getting-off-the-ground/