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Pathmatics Blog

Southwest vs. Virgin Airlines: How Their Advertising Strategies Are Ramping Up for the Holidays

November 22 2016 by Jordan Kramer

Airline Showdown.png
Going on a trip over the holidays? You aren’t the only one. With the busiest travel season in nine years just about to kick-off, travel advertisers have some serious dollars to fight for. Nearly 48.7M Americans will be traveling over Thanksgiving week alone, and with Christmas only a few weeks away, the travel plans are only beginning. 
Zeroing in on the airline industry, Virgin America Airlines is a smaller airline raking in approximately $1.529B during 2015 (and also awaiting an acquisition by Alaska Airlines). Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, is much larger - over ten times larger - bringing in $19.82B during 2015. While these two airlines are on different sides of the revenue table, they are fighting for the same eyes online. Let's take a look at how their digital advertising strategies compare across channels over the last thirty days.

How Much Are They Spending?

Southwest Airlines has spent over $174K across desktop, mobile+tablet, and video advertising during the last thirty days. Virgin America, while smaller, has spent $244K over the last thirty days. 
Source: Pathmatics U.S. Digital Data, 10/22/16-11/20/16.

What Channels Are They Using?

Over the last thirty days, Southwest Airlines has put 82% of their digital spend towards video advertising. Desktop/display was the second top channel for the brand with 13% of their spend, and mobile trailed with  6%. Although video was their top investment, only 8 of the 38 total creatives released by Southwest over the last thirty days were video creatives. 
Virgin America Airlines put their dollars into a different channel: display. Desktop/display advertising consumed 88% of Virgin’s digital spend over the last thirty days, with mobile finishing out their plan with 12% spend share. A whopping 33 of their 37 total digital creatives released during the last month were for display.
Source: Pathmatics U.S. Digital Data,10/22/16-11/20/16.

How Are They Buying?

DSPs were the top buying channel for both Southwest and Virgin America Airlines, with over half of the spend share for both brands. Southwest spent 73% of their total digital dollars through DSPs, with top partner TubeMogul reaping the lion’s share with 67% of the brand’s total digital spend. Direct buys were the second most preferred buying channel for Southwest with 25% share of spend.
Virgin America Airlines spent 93% of their total digital spend through DSPs over the last thirty days, all of which went to top digital partner The Trade Desk . Direct buys followed far behind with 6% of Virgin’s spend.
Source: Pathmatics U.S. Digital Data,10/22/16-11/20/16.

What Creatives Are They Running?

Overall, the two airline companies were neck-in-neck as far as releasing creatives across desktop, mobile, and video. Southwest’s 38 unique creatives narrowly edged out the 37 creatives released by Virgin over the last thirty days. 
Longing for a ski vacation? Southwest is looking for you, even letting you know that if you bring the skis...they’ll bring the savings. Several display creatives featuring snowy slopes were released by Southwest on November 8th and are still running, enticing you to dust off the skis and book that vacay now. The creatives for the campaign directed users to this landing page offering discounted winter travel for a limited time.
Virgin advertised its features, instead of the winter season. Touting their fleet-wide wifi in a new campaign released on October 20th, other creatives used messaging such as “On-demand Entertainment Used to be the Window Seat," with the subtitle "Movies + Live TV at every seat.” The bright and bold creatives directed users to a landing page encouraging them to search for flight deals.

What Sites Are They Targeting?

Here's a look at the top five digital sites for both companies across desktop, mobile, and video.
Top Five Digital Sites
Southwest Airlines Virgin America Airlines
1. topix.com 1. ebay.com
2. aol.com                                               2. yahoo.com
3. youtube.com 3. businessinsider.com
4. nytimes.com 4. allrecipes.com
5. mocospace.com 5. lifehacker.com
Source: Pathmatics U.S. Digital Data, 10/22/16-11/20/16.
Are you going away for the holidays? Have any of the ads you've come across swayed your purchasing decision? Let us know in the comments.
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About Author
Jordan Kramer

An out-of-the-box thinker with a love for disruptive ideas, Jordan's background spans PR and events for the wedding & hospitality industry in Los Angeles and Scottsdale and also launching one of America's most unique food trucks. She jumped from the food start-up scene to the tech start-up scene in 2013 to join one of the most unique companies in ad tech. Jordan is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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