Spirit Airlines CEO Defends Racy Commercial

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," February 3, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight: The brutal recession is causing some companies to do, well, some strange things to get your business. Take a look at this commercial for Spirit Airlines.

Click here to watch the ad and the interview with the CEO of Spirit Airlines!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dude, there is no way your mom is cheating on your dad. Hey, I'm kind of in the middle of something. Can I give you a call back later? All right, bye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That wasn't Jay, was it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that was your son. Don't worry, he's not going to find out.

ANNOUNCER: Do you think that's low? Spirit Airlines' fares are even lower. Now you can fly Spirit for as low as $39 each way.


O'REILLY: That's a real commercial. So will the ad bring customers in or drive them away? Joining us now from south Florida, the CEO of Spirit Airlines, Ben Baldanza. Here in the New York studio, marketing expert Laura Ries.

All right, Laura. We're going to give Mr. Baldanza a chance to defend the commercial, but very simple: Is that going to sell more tickets or alienate customers to go someplace else?

LAURA RIES, MARKETING EXPERT: Well, even worse than that, it's going to upset their flight attendants, the employees.

O'REILLY: I don't care about the employees.

RIES: All right.

O'REILLY: Let's stay with a plus or a minus for the airline as far as business is concerned?

RIES: It is a sexual nature. They're going to get people to talk about sex. They're going to go to the airline if the price is low enough. But does this make a long sustainable brand? I don't think so. It lacks a message. It's just trying to be sexy to be sexy to get...

O'REILLY: OK. So you're saying that if the fare, which is absolutely low at 39 bucks…

RIES: Yes.

O'REILLY: …the people will overlook the commercial even if they didn't like it, and they'll pay attention to the commercial because it's so outrageous so they'll know the fare? So it seems what you're saying here is this company, Spirit Airlines, will benefit from the spot.

RIES: Well, I don't think they'll benefit from the spot because people will remember going to the Internet to find these low fares. In that spot I didn't hear anything talking about travel. It didn't really use that. It was just talking about sex.

O'REILLY: It's a play on a low airline fare, OK. So we had you on because you do — you guys do this, not a lot, but occasionally. It's a pretty offensive spot, and in the business travel community, I don't know if you're going to pick up a lot of help there. But I could be wrong on it. Ben, what do you say?

BEN BALDANZA, CEO, SPIRIT AIRLINES: Well, Bill, the ultimate effect of any advertising strategy is does it help you sell? And this has been a very effective tactic for us. We've used this sort of edgy marketing strategy since about 2005, and we've found that it's worked extremely well to drive traffic to our Web site and have people buy our tickets and know about our airline.

O'REILLY: How long has this commercial been on the air?

BALDANZA: Only for a couple of weeks or so, and it's one of the very rare times that we use more traditional media to advertise. Most of the time, we just do these things on our own Web site or send it out through, to e-mail list of people who asked to get our e-mails.

O'REILLY: Now, how many complaints have you had from the ad?

BALDANZA: Very, very few. And basically, our ratio of compliments and complaints is very favorable. People tend to like this. You know, we have a mix of...

RIES: Fourteen.

O'REILLY: Yes, I was going to say, is that the "Graduate" crew, Dustin Hoffman watching that movie, the Mrs. Robinson crowd? Well, yes. I mean, who is complimenting you on the ad? Can't be middle America. Can't be traditional people.

BALDANZA: Well, no, it is pretty much middle America. And Bill, if you look at this ad or the ones, the other ones that we've run on our Web site in the spectrum of what is advertised on TV, this is pretty middle of the road. It was on the Super Bowl a few days ago.

O'REILLY: So a teenager sleeping with somebody's mom is middle of the road. Look, I mean, tonight I'm — my head is blowing off anyway after all the things I'm hearing. Maybe we are living in Sodom and Gomorrah, and I just haven't seen the sign change.

BALDANZA: Well, the fact, Bill, that you are sort of...

O'REILLY: Laura wants to say something, but I think she's so flabbergasted by your statement that there's this — middle America loves this. Go ahead.

RIES: I live in Atlanta. I've traveled in middle America. This is not what middle America is all about.

O'REILLY: I wouldn't think they would like this, but...

RIES: Families travel. Women travel. Women don't like that type of messaging. And I think he would do, maybe, even better if he would combine that…

O'REILLY: Mistresses travel, too. And teenagers who want to get older women. They fly, too.

RIES: They fly first class. They don't fly on the ultra low airlines. Come on.

O'REILLY: All right, Ben. We know why you're doing it. I mean, you're running a business, and it's tough these days. And you've got a lot of attention. You get a free commercial run here and — I guess. But do you want to say something, Ben?

BALDANZA: Well, this is a tough economy, Bill.

RIES: You can...

O'REILLY: Go ahead.

BALDANZA: I'd like to say one more thing though, Bill. I think it's important — using this strategy, we've lowered our distribution cost by 80 percent in the last three years. And that allows us to offer lower fares to customers at a time when people are finding it hard to buy anything and to keep a lot of people employed at a time when a lot of companies are laying off. So fundamentally, this is a business strategy. It's nothing else.

O'REILLY: All right. Very interesting. We appreciate you guys.

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