Virgin America’s Geo-Social Loss Leader Gets Huge Response

Virgin America’s two-for-one, airfare-to-Mexico offer on Loopt garnered the fifth-best revenue day in the airline’s three-year history, according to the two companies. On Tuesday, they told ClickZ, “thousands of people” flocked to a designated taco truck in San Francisco and Los Angeles during a four-hour period to check in and take advantage of the eye-catching offer.

Of those onlookers in San Francisco, according to Loopt, 1,300 checked in using Loopt’s Star program, and 89 percent then downloaded the coupon after receiving an e-mail confirmation. Data from the Los Angeles part of the effort (pictured below) was not yet available. The coupons expire after Sept. 30 and are good for flights to Cancun or Los Cabos, which will be available starting in January.

loopt3Big rewards like free plane tickets “always tend to do the trick,” said Jill Fletcher, social media manager for the airline. It was Virgin America’s first foray into geo-social marketing.

“We wanted to make a big splash in the social-mapping world, and we realize that [free airfare] is probably one of the biggest offers that has ever been out there using a virtual gaming program,” Fletcher explained. “We know that that helped get a lot of attention.”

A search for a midweek roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Cancun on the airline’s site yesterday produced a $465 price tag for coach-level seating. San Francisco to Los Cabos cost $366. In either case, that’s a hefty loss leader.

The social initiative comes on the heels of the Gap’s profoundly successful 50 percent discount on Groupon two weeks ago. And Virgin America’s Loopt campaign builds on a similar loss-leading effort on Twitter, where it launched its Toronto service in April. It offered 50 percent off for the first 500 travelers who purchased flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to the Canadian city. So it’s beginning to appear that big loss leaders could be an emerging tactic among major brands that want to bring consumers into their social media fold.

The Burlingame, CA-based Virgin America ran its Loopt campaign from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pacific Standard Time to create buzz for its upcoming flight service to the Mexican resort destinations. “By 11 a.m., we had hundreds of people already in line,” said Alice Lankester, VP of marketing at Loopt. “We had a bride-to-be who was going to honeymoon in Cancun who came down to check in. We had whole groups of college-aged folks spilling out of minivans saying, ‘We all heard about this and we’re going to get our tickets for Spring Break [2011].'”

During the four-hour window, Virgin America offered Loopt Star members who checked in not only two-for-one plane tickets, but also two-for-one tacos at a popular taco truck in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. The money raised from the tacos is being donated to a California-based Chihuahua rescue organization.

To get either tickets or tacos, interested parties had to have an iPhone – the only mobile device Loopt currently runs on – while utilizing the location-based service’s app.

How Virgin America Created Tickets-And-Tacos Buzz

In what has become almost a given when it comes to current marketing efforts, the brands leveraged their social media audiences to spread the word. Virgin America’s Facebook “likers” (65,800) and Twitter followers (114,400) were notified with a post and tweet about the airfare offer. Loopt did the same for Facebook (4,900 “likers”) and Twitter (4,400 followers).

Fletcher said the blogosphere lit up and spurred the brief campaign’s success. “I was down there at the San Francisco truck myself, and we had a nice long line around the block,” she said. “Everyone was checking in using Loopt Star, and we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback via Twitter and Facebook.”

Fletcher said the campaign’s chief goals – creating awareness about the new flight routes and getting the brand’s feet wet in location-based marketing – were achieved. Spurring the test campaign, she said, was Virgin America’s customer survey data showing the brand had a tech-savvy audience.

“Fifty-three percent of our customers bring a laptop with them on flights and all of our flights have WiFi,” Fletcher said. “We wanted to bring in an added value for our customers who we knew were already plugging in and connecting on social networks. This is another way they can connect with us.”

Burger King, Gap, Starbucks, Paul Frank, and Universal Music Group have all run campaigns on Loopt. But Lankester of the Mountain View, CA-based company didn’t mince words when asked to compare the Virgin America effort to past stints by other brands on the geo-social platform.

“I feel like this has been definitely our most successful campaign, especially given the small amount of time we had to do it and the terrific response,” Lankester said. “I think it speaks to the fact that people become motivated when there’s really something of value there. Some check-in rewards can be so-so. They are not as generous as this. [These participants] were motivated to move from point A to point B to get the reward.”


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