Chicago Sun-Times
Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

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Early today Southwest Airlines announced its intention to acquire low-fare competitor AirTran Airways. That news, understandably, wasn't a cause for great rejoicing around the offices of Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago, which has had the AirTran ad account for 12 years.

Though the acquisition deal is far from done and probably won't be finalized until sometime next year, it's unlikely Southwest will allow AirTran -- and all the benefits it will bring to the acquiring carrier -- to slip from its grasp, as did Frontier Airlines when Southwest tried to acquire it recently.

Southwest mostly likely will continue to rely on its longtime principal ad agency GSD&M Idea City in Austin, Tex. for its advertising needs, which are considerable. Southwest has been especially aggressive when it comes to advertising both its low fares and its "bags fly free" policy.

Should C-K lose its AirTran business, an agency spokesman said the agency's airline experience should enable it to aggressively compete for another airline account -- if a carrier should be looking for a new agency.

A bittersweet historical side note: Cramer-Krasselt once worked with Southwest. The C-K spokeswoman said the agency for eight years handled advertising in markets where Southwest was introducing new service.

This much is clear -- very clear -- from several of the new TV commercials low-fare behemoth Southwest Airlines and its ad agency GSD&M Idea City/Austin are launching today. The "Grab You Bag. It's On!" theme isn't going away from the Southwest marketing game plan.

If anything, Southwest, in this latest round of spots, is getting more aggressive about promoting its "bags fly free" policy. In one of the new spots, a group of real Southwest baggage handlers is seen rushing towards another plane on the tarmac that, based on the livery, appears to belong to AirTran, though the carrier's name has been blocked out on screen. The baggage handlers stop before reaching the plane, collectively lift their shirts to reveal a message about the Southwest baggage policy emblazoned on their collective bellies. A female passenger seen in a seat inside the plane looks out and obviously gets the message. It would be hard to miss, if we were in her place.

Other spots in the new series show more real Southwest employees (no pretty and perfectly-toned actors anywhere in sight) touting, among other things, free snacks and point-to-point flights, all trademarks of Southwest service. We like Southwest's decision to use real employees in its new spots. They lend a note of veracity to the work -- which can't hurt, given that so many viewers tend to cast a suspicious eye on advertising when picture-perfect people are seen trying to sell them on something.

Meanwhile, Southwest will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its start of service to Midway Airport on Wednesday, Mar. 17, with some speeches and the presentation of a gift to airport officials at the Southwest main ticketing desk at Midway.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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