How Spirit Airlines High-Fived Its Haters With Viral Content

The Internet is a busy place, and it’s hard to get noticed. It’s even harder to be noticed in a positive light if you work for a brand that isn’t always receiving glowing reviews from consumers.

Ultra low cost carrier Spirit Airlines received the most customer complaints of all domestic carriers between 2009 and 2013. However, Spirit used content and social media to change the conversation about their audience’s perception of their brand in a campaign that went viral.

“Ode to Hate”

The Spirit campaign features a video that showcases some of the negative comments the airline has received.

If you’ve never flown on Spirit Airlines, most would consider you lucky. They charge extra for what a wide margin of people would expect to get for free on other airlines – things such as a second carry-on bag, decent legroom and water.

Despite the fact that Spirit’s value can’t be beat, they were tired of getting a lot of hate from consumers not understanding a basic premise of their business: Providing the bare minimum is how Spirit keeps prices low. Or how Spirit puts it: Your fare only covers “your ass + gas.”

So instead of crying about it, they wrote a funny song, and it went viral. While most airlines (and brands too, for that matter) bury their heads in the sand when it comes to consumer complaints, Spirit was bold enough to say something about it.


There’s a lot of content on the Internet, and sometimes the campaigns that receive the least funding get the most buzz. In order to grab the attention of your audience, you need to think, “edge-ucational.” Content that is equal parts edgy and educational about a brand are noticed more quickly. Spirit was able to educate its audience that they aren’t up-charging for “extras” to solely destroy your will to live. The video uniquely informs consumers the extra charges are to keep the your ticket cost low.

By delivering the message via a funny (and slightly inappropriate) song, they created the edge factor. Featuring tweets consumers crafted themselves also added some additional edge. Because you simply can’t make up, “I’d rather unicycle to Miami with two broken ankles than fly Spirit airlines.”

A glass case of emotion

When viewing viral content, your audience is more likely than not bored waiting in line somewhere or bored at work. They’re seeking to feel anything but boredom, so your content should aim to alleviate their pain and replace it with new feelings. However, according to Buffer not every emotion is created equal. Certain emotions will make us more likely to share content than others.

While it varies slightly across gender and age, the general rule of thumb is that creating the feelings of awe, anger, surprise, anxiety/fear, joy and lust causes consumers to share your content. And if your audience feels more than one of these at once, the likelihood of your content being shared increases even more. Spirit’s peppy background tune, blunt lyrics and awkward sense of humor creates the complex mix of emotions audiences love.

Fun fact: Content that has an overall positive message is more likely to go viral than content with a negative message.

Your soapbox matters

Marketers can and should think about the type of social interaction they’re trying to encourage, and create content tailored toward those goals.

Before sharing content, consider your primary social goals to better choose what content can serve these goals most effectively. Are you mainly trying to improve consumer perception of the brand, or are you mostly concerned with social metrics and increasing general brand awareness and interaction? A “favorite,” “like,” or “+1” is generally the equivalent to nod of approval. A retweet or share, however, is a form of self-expression.

Your content should reflect the type of engagement you want to receive.  If you’re merely seeking to improve consumer perception of your brand, seek out admiration-type metrics (comments and “likes”) and don’t worry as much if your share numbers are low. According to Buffer, Content that earns higher appreciation metrics features images with people in them, portraits and celebrities. On the other hand, content that was a form of self-expression were generally memes, animated gifs, quotes, images of animals and food pictures.

Also keep in mind the media you are using to deliver content.  Will it be a video, a gif, text or a picture? Video is more likely to be consumed on a tablet or computer, so you may be missing the mark on your mobile audience. Also, some types of content perform better on certain social networks than others.  For example, on Twitter images tend to get 128% more retweets than videos, but videos get favorited 49% more than images.

The meter is running

The length of your content also plays a major role in virality.

With the increased use of mobile, there is a perception that shorter content makes better and more shareable content. However, two unrelated studies completed by The New York Times and Buzzsumo revealed that longer pieces of content actually received more shares.

So what does this tell us? That audiences are looking for meaty content that provides lots of insights. If you’re concerned about keeping your reader hooked all the way through, you need to ensure your content is valuable for them in every paragraph or frame. Plus, it’s easier to stand out with long-format content due to the surge in listicles, GIFs and other long forms of content.

While Spirit’s video is relatively short, just clocking in at over one minute in length, it provides valuable knowledge and entertainment for the consumer each step of the way. When it comes to length, people will always love to share short cat videos, but that doesn’t mean we should be ignoring the lengthy stuff.

As for written content, the Buzzsumo’s study found the sweet spot to aim for seems to be around 2,000 words.


At the end of the day, don’t be discouraged if every piece of content you create isn’t a home run. While it might feel like every other brand has a piece of content being shared, what isn’t being shared are all the ones that missed the mark. Creating viral content can take an attempt or two, a little bit of luck and all the advice we provided courtesy of Spirit Airlines.

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