Delta no longer singing a Song

October 28, 2005

Bankrupt Delta Airlines announced it is discontinuing its discount airline Song. Launched in 2003, Song was created as a hip low-cost carrier to compete with high fliers Jet Blue and AirTran. The flights were all coach and included amenities such as increased legroom, pre-flight meal ordering and a music service.

So why is Delta/Song no longer singing? Well, there are two problems. Delta and Song.

Delta’s strategy was flawed. Song was destined to ring flat. Launching a second brand is a great strategy if you want to establish a new category. But you can’t wait forever to do it. Song was launched way too late. Southwest invented the low-cost category back in the 70’s. Delta had 30 years to match that success and did nothing.

Then there’s the name itself. Song? Crazy names can work for some brands in some categories. Google in search engines. Monster in jobs. Sir Richard Branson makes Virgin Airlines work, but no one else alive can pull off the PR that he can.

But Song was just a crazy name for the sake of being crazy. It has no “crazy” credibility. Just a weak attempt by a bunch of blue suits to establish a new airline. It’s like a super geek trying to act cool at the prom. It just doesn’t fly.

Obviously, Delta has troubles too. The airline is bleeding red ink and has filed for bankruptcy.  All the major airlines have made the same mistakes. Over the years they have chased every new category. As a result each airline has eroded its brand and its business model.

Every time there was a fork in the sky the airlines took both forks. First class and coach. Business and leisure. Domestic and international. Passengers and cargo.

They tried to do everything.

Not every air transportation company is failing. Those that have focused have succeeded. Southwest and Jet Blue in coach travel. United Parcel and FedEx in cargo.

Song is just another chapter in the book of brands that never had a chance to make it off the ground. There’s a chapter on Continental Lite, too. (Believe me, I’m not making this stuff up.)

Continental tried to get into the low-cost carrier business with the Lite name. Look where it got them! Then there’s a chapter on the Shuttle by United, which never got off the ground either. And I expect there will be a chapter on Ted, United’s latest effort to launch a no-frills carrier.