Brother, You Asked For It
The police exist in order to protect the rights of citizens from criminals. In other words, criminals force people to do things and the police stop them. Does an airline (a group of people) asking another group of people (their customers) to pay a bag fee force anyone to do anything? It doesn’t. If the customers don’t like the terms of the transaction as put forth by the airline they are free to not do business with it; just as the airline is free to offer free baggage handling services as part of their overall transportation if they do not like the fact that they are losing customers.
All of that is very simple and obvious. In these commercials, Southwest is not claiming that a competitor charging for bags is a violation of their customer’s rights. It is merely implying it by making the joke that that is the case.
Why is such a joke funny? The purpose of advertising is to make potential customers aware of the product or service the seller is selling – either to meet a need that the seller knows the buyer knows he already has, or to make the buyer aware of a need he didn’t know that he had. Ostensibly, the need being addressed here is one that the customer already knows about: his need to for air travel, with his luggage, without the added cost of baggage handling fees. So why address Southwest’s ability to meet this need using this particular type of humor? Why not, instead, simply announce that something about Southwest’s business model has made the airline more cost-effective and thus able to pass on savings to their customers (or, if they prefer, dramatize this change in a humorous way)? The reason this type of humor was chosen instead is because Southwest knows the state of the culture. They know that many in the consuming public actually do regard the bag fees charged by other airlines as a violation of their individual rights. They also know that many, many more merely feel this way, subconsciously. Southwest knows that in the short-term they can make more money by attracting more customers whose either explicit or implicit anti-business sentiments have been aroused by an anti-business commercial series than they could by making a series which dramatizes their cost-savings accomplishment (such a commercial series would be implicitly pro-business).
Another question: why is the short-term more important to major corporations like Southwest Airlines than is the long-term – to the point that they are willing to further undermine the cultural and political landscape that all business depends upon? The reason has to do with the extent to which that cultural and political landscape already has become anti-business. Because of this individual companies, industries, even entire segments of the macro-economy are subject to the unpredictable, continually-shifting, and politically-motivated dictates of government instead of being guided solely by an honest and rational (but not infallible) assessment of the needs and wants of the actual people they are trying to trade with. This level of government power was achieved precisely because enough of the electorate (ie: consuming public) held anti-business ideas, and thus gave their governors the power to “police” businesses in all sorts of ways. This series of commercials simply ensures that that phenomenon will not only continue, but accelerate.
Skeptical of this claim? This blog has made this exact same point before. The very same company (Southwest), about the very same issue (bag fees), used the very same tactic (calling bag fees a violation of rights) for the very same purpose (short-term gains). Only the last time they did it it was not as explicit. Why not? Because at that point they had determined that being that explicit would back fire. Because they were not so desperate for short-term gains that they thought it was necessary to be this explicit. Not so today, evidently. If this country’s economy ever becomes the fully regulated, anti-business economy it’s currently headed towards becoming, if it’s past treatment by the government is any indication, the airline industry will be one of the first to be enveloped. If that happens, Southwest Airlines will have no one to blame but themselves.