WestJet: Cockpits and Cocktails Don’t Mix

[Cache #198]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding

What is a flight deck?

Why, it’s a place you drink booze, of course.  At a Blue Jays game, in the enormous stand-up bar overlooking centre field, into which crowd hundreds of fans for a bird’s eye look at the action.  I’ve been to the venue several times, right under the formerly-named Jumbotron, and it’s definitely a unique vantage point and a lot of fun.  And it’s the best deal in professional sports:  anyone with a ticket can access it, so you can just buy a nosebleed seat (sometimes less than $10 on StubHub) and you’re in.

At the Blue Jays-Yankees game this week, one could see a new, massive sign indicating the bar has been given a new name:  The WestJet Flight Deck.

The double entendre WestJet was no doubt aiming for is with one of the two definitions of the term flight deck found on Dictionary.com:

1. The cockpit of an aircraft – the place from where the pilots fly a plane.
2. The area on an aircraft carrier on which planes take off and land.

It seems sensible that the first definition was the one being aimed for, and so we have WestJet drawing a connection between the cockpits of their planes and alcohol consumption.  And not just alcohol consumption, but – taking the metaphor a further, obvious step – flying on alcohol.   By this I am not referring to the idea of actually flying the plane while drinking, but to the idea of flying, i.e. being very much under the influence of something.

It’s not a no-no for an airline to associate itself with booze: they sell the product in their lounges and on their planes, after all.  But making a direct association between booze and the area from which the plane is flown?  That’s off-brand for any airline whose primary concern is to be associated with safety.  Which is, presumably, every airline.

Air Canada has lounges in major airports, called the Maple Leaf Lounge.  So they managed to create a name that avoids flying references while at the same time, refers to the all-important Canadian aspect of their brand.

Even if you think it’s pedantic to fuss over the second meanings of Flight Deck, ultimately the name adds no value to the WestJet brand story.  We know WestJet flies planes.  Every airline flies planes.  Every plane has a flight deck.  So Flight Deck is not differentiating.  There is no upside to this name, only potential downside.

How can WestJet make a more judicious choice, and simultaneously reinforce the absolutely most crucial part of their brand – that they care because they’re owned by their staff?  With a name like The Owner’s Box.

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6 Responses to WestJet: Cockpits and Cocktails Don’t Mix

  1. StupidPost says:

    Wow. Andris, your motivation in this post must be to capitalize off of their positive image, trying to make yourself look good by criticizing. #fail

  2. Coin says:

    Says the lurker with “stupid” in their name.

  3. SC says:

    Andris, I understand how you could take the true meaning of flight deck not being a very good representation of WestJet’s brand, if that was the way WestJet imply it or even understood what it meant. My take is that WestJet actually intended this like a destination, that the balls off our beloved Blue Jays bats took flight and landed in this area, 400+ feet away from home. I just don’t know how many people actually understand what flight deck means. I believe a better approach would have been to call this area “WestJet’s Flight Level” or “WestJet’s Touch Down Zone (the TDZ)” or “WestJet’s Landing Sector” and imply it’s a place one goes to see balls soar to great distances out in centre field.

  4. Andris says:

    Hi Sean, and thank you for your comment. I hear you about the other levels of meaning to the name Flight Deck. It is certainly a place from which to watch the baseballs fly. The vantage point is similar in concept to a flight deck on either an airplane or aircraft carrier, in that integral to its purpose is to see everything clearly. And in all of these ways, the name Flight Deck works. The missed opportunity with the name is that it does not reference something unique about the WestJet brand promise. I just wonder why, when they are paying for such a high profile opportunity, a brand would choose not to pick a name that drives the brand story forward.

    I was just on the subway and saw an ad for Panamania, the name for the cultural festival that runs concurrent with the Games. What a drag it would be had they named it the PanAm Games Cultural Festival instead of taking the chance to say something memorable about the PanAm brand. Thanks again Sean –

  5. Michael says:

    I would love to be a fly on the wall during WestJet’s internal process that ended up with this branding decision. Perhaps it started with a WestJet executive who said “I love baseball therefore this would be a good investment for us. You over there – make this fit into our strategy…”? Was there a surprise dropped at the first meetings with the stadium owners whereby they wanted a veto on the branding WestJet could use (“…I like the concepts WestJet has brought to the table, but we really think the catchphrase “FlightDeck” works. I would strongly consider this if I was you…”)?

    Examples of pure conjecture of pinpointing where the problem started, but I wonder in what percentage of such branding mishaps that influences to marketing tactics begin back-driving the branding strategy off the rails (and if indeed this was the case here?)

  6. Coin says:

    Thank you Michael. Good questions. Everything we have seen from WestJet since their inception has indicated clear and deep brand self-knowledge. So it is surprising and puzzling that they would forgo the opportunity to perpetuate their brand story here. Perhaps, as you suggest, it does indicate a deviation from the sound practices they must have been practicing in the past. Thanks again –