Summer was on sale again in May at Southwest Airlines, whose smiling pilots and flight attendants offered one-way fares as low as $49 as part of its annual, multi-platform "Transfarency" marketing campaign. For decades, Southwest Airlines led the nation’s domestic carriers as one of the most aggressive advertisers, with a $218MM advertising budget in 2015. Its front-facing public relations and brand strategy projected an image of the nation’s most consumer-friendly airline with a family-style employee culture. The investment paid off with good press and high returns.
Until it didn’t.