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Controversial Spirit Promo Ruffles Some Feathers

Late yesterday afternoon, Spirit Airlines posted a new sale. If you’re a frequent visitor to SmarterTravel, you know there’s nothing unique about this. Spirit releases sales almost every day, often with eye-catching advertised prices. In this case, the lowest fares started at $9 each way.

Of course, if you follow Spirit at all, you know the airline has a penchant for using off-beat humor in its promos, humor that sometimes crosses the line between funny and offensive. Yesterday’s sale did exactly that.

The “Eye of the Tiger” sale featured a short animation of a tiger driving an SUV into a fire hydrant. The tiger is wearing a black baseball cap.

Unless you’ve been living in a total media blackout lately (and if you have, you haven’t missed much), you’ve no doubt heard about Tiger Woods’ strange single-car accident in Florida over the weekend. Spirit’s ad is clearly playing off this incident, using the media hoopla over the golfer’s circumstances to bring attention to its sale.

There would likely be no story here if the airline didn’t have a well-established pattern of (arguably) tasteless advertising. For example, Spirit has run the following promos over the past few years: the MILF sale (More Islands Lower Fares—if you don’t know what else the acronym stands for, Google at your own risk), a “threesome” sale (purportedly three sales in one), a “We’re No Virgin” sale (after Virgin America announced service from Ft. Lauderdale), and a sale that seemed to reference Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor shortly after she was nominated. The carrier’s “Hunt for Hoffa” sale was eighth on CNN Money’s list of the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business in 2007.

We can argue day and night about what’s offensive and what isn’t, and whether or not the public is oversensitive to these sorts of things, but what I’m interested in is simple: Does this help the airline? For a carrier that has earned itself a pretty poor reputation for customer service, it seems to me that potentially offensive advertising would be a risk not worth taking.

But what do you think? Is this a good way to drum up business, or merely a good way to get attention? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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