Thinking / Are Raunchy Ads Good Ads?

Are Raunchy Ads Good Ads?

NOTE: Special thanks to Caroline Pratt, one of our bright interns, for her work on this post. OK, let's be honest. She did all the work.

In a recent story, NPR featured Spirit Airlines, whom The Wall Street Journal ranked “pound for pound, the most profitable airline in the U.S.”

Spirit’s ticket prices are exceptionally low, but so are its advertising costs. What’s the secret? Two words: raunchy advertising.

Spirit’s M.I.L.F. (Many Islands Low Fares) slogan claims that rates are “hotter and cheaper than ever.” Similarly, after the 2010 BP oil spill, Spirit released an ad that said, "Check out the oil on our beaches." It was in reference to suntan oil on women.

Some critics reject this advertising as obscene and unprofessional. In an interview with NPR, Armando Lopez of Navigant Marketing says, “It looks like something an office clerk did in PowerPoint on their free time. And no offense to the office clerk in saying that.”

As anticipated, these advertisements generate a lot of momentum from news outlets like NPR. With his latest provocative campaign, Spirit Airlines President Ben Baldanza landed himself an opportunity to say, "Our consumer feedback has been positive, and the only thing we think is obscene is the fares that most of our competitors charge.”

Are Spirit ads just innocent gags, or has a line of decency been crossed?  In the past year, Marcus Thomas has launched a couple campaigns tip-toeing that same invisible line between humor and crassness – namely our dirty-talking oven TV spots for Goo Gone and our Sleep Naked campaign for Swisspers.

We like to think of these as playful campaigns that flirt without provoking distaste, but you have to draw a line somewhere. So, the poignant question is: did Spirit cross the line with ads like M.I.L.F. or did we miss the line and not go far enough to really make a mark on consumers?