The Midwest Airlines cookie crumbles in the hands of Frontier – the loss of a brand icon
The Midwest Cookie – a brand icon
When I used to live in Boston a few years ago, a number of my friends used to fly Midwest Airlines to destinations in the Northeast. And they never mentioned anything about the flight other than the cookies and their warm smell floating down the cabin at 35,000ft.
I thought that was very unique, and while I personally never had the chance to fly Midwest, once I became part of the aviation industry, I met lots of executives who absolutely loved the airline for its cookies. Now, that’s a brand icon that’s hard to duplicate: what’re more, it makes for a perfect Brand X-factor, as detailed in our 6X airline branding model.
Just like Singapore Airlines has the Singapore Girl, Virgin Atlantic has Richard Branson, AirAsia has its Nasi Lemak and Porter its racoon – Midwest had its cookies, which appeals to many senses – taste, smell, touch. And most importantly, it helped form an invaluable emotional connection.
The cookies were such a huge hit that Midwest Airlines even put the dough with the same recipe in supermarkets in 2007, so that people could bake them at home. It flew off the shelf!
Alas, something that’s not easy to duplicate is often easy to get rid of too. And that’s what’s happening after the takeover by Frontier Airlines.
The Cookie Crumbles (and promises are broken)
Frontier Airlines, which absorbed the Midwest Airlines brand in 2010, had promised to keep the signature cookies at that time. However, now they’ve taken an about-turn, citing costs and mis-match with the animal-oriented Frontier brand image. The executives are replacing it with animal crackers, which will also cost $1 in Economy class. How sad is that?
The number one rule of brand differentiation is that if you’re the only one in a market with a unique offering – no other airlines bake fresh bookies on-board – then keep it! Yes, it may not bring immediate gratification to the airline CFO, but certainly in tough times, the brand that has an emotional connection will come out stronger than one that has a transactional relationship with the customer. Ironically, that’s what the CFO is trying to prevent.
How could Frontier have saved this brand icon?
The withdrawal of the cookies has resulted in raging debates among fans and pragmatists online. With the benefit of hindsight, we can think of a few ways Frontier could have handled this brand icon better, and perhaps even saved the cookie from crumbling. Here are a few ideas:
- If the cookies were a major cost, and had even a chance of getting the chop, why make the promise to keep it at all? People stop trusting a brand that makes promises but doesn’t deliver.
- If the free cookies weren’t bringing in additional revenues, why not try charging for it first, rather than just eliminating it? Yes, people might be disappointed, but perhaps not as heartbroken.
- Since the passengers loved the cookies so much, why not try and make additional revenues from it by continuing to place it in supermarkets and sharing revenues with the manufacturer?
- If the animal theme matters so much for the Frontier brand, why not try making animal-shaped cookies? Perhaps they’d be a hit too.
Quoted in an article by the NY Times, Erich Joachimsthaler, chief executive of Vivaldi Partners said,
“when consumers don’t know how to judge the benefits or the differentiation of a product — I don’t know the difference between Midwest and JetBlue and United — then a meaningless attribute like cookies can create meaningful differentiation . . .The giveaway creates buzz, it creates differentiation, it increases a purchase decision.”
A hotel that gives away cookies is DoubleTree and they’ve already distributed over 250 million of them. Travelers seemed to love the Midwest cookie just as much, if not more. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see it being sold on eBay soon. In fact, don’t be surprised if a “Save Cookie” Facebook page comes up too!
Jay Sorensen, the person behind the cookies at Midwest still keeps the plaque that he received when he left the company that was signed by executives and employees. According to JS Online, it’s a picture of a cookie in a wicker basket. The caption reads: “We won’t let the cookie crumble. With fond memories and best wishes from your friends at Midwest Express.”