I’m not sure where to start with the brand experience problems for Southwest Airlines in this picture. When it comes to bad decisions about branding strategies, this scary mistake is all tricks and no treats.

This scene greeted me in Kansas City as I returned on a Southwest flight from Boston. The entire Southwest Airlines ticketing area was decorated for Halloween. But the Halloween decorations weren’t of things like pumpkins, candy, and some of the lighter aspects of Halloween.

No, the Southwest Airlines ticketing area went with an over the top death theme for its Halloween decorations: multiple hanging skeletons, ghosts, and tombstones (sitting on an overhang, front and center) featuring RIP (Rest in Peace) on them.


Extending Branding Strategies Too Far

Maybe because of the lighthearted and fun aspects of the Southwest Airlines brand personality, it seems prone to missing the boundaries where lighthearted and fun run lead to situations in poor taste. We talk about Southwest Airlines frequently example in Brainzooming branding and content marketing workshops. Because it does so much so well, its brand miscues probably stick out more when they happen.


As we point out in workshops, when trying to extend branding strategies into new or unusual territory, you may have to vary the brand personality. In such situations, having the brand personality the SAME isn’t as vital as creating a sense of brand personality CONSISTENCY. Every experience of the brand personality should feel as if it originates from one brand, even if the situation necessitates strategic changes to achieve that consistency.

In the case of Southwest Airlines, its lighthearted brand personality is balanced by a sense of smart performance. However, it’s hardly smart performance when your brand:

  • Plays up likely the biggest fear about your brand for a significant segment of the audience
  • Positions itself as a poor industry member by playing up the biggest fear about your entire industry
  • Takes its brand personality and applies it in ways that clearly break the brand promise (in this case, “getting to your destination alive”)

If you are a marketer hoping to deliver smart performance for your brand, stay away from extending your branding strategies haphazardly into fears about your brand. If you do that, it's a REALLY scary mistake! - Mike Brown


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