Branding WestJet’s new low-cost carrier

The airline's EVP of strategy on the opportunity behind Swoop's offering.
WestJet-Meet Swoop

Months after first announcing its intentions, WestJet has officially unveiled its new ultra-low-cost airline brand, hoping to win over travellers who pack light and aren’t looking for frills.

The airline debuted Swoop – which will be a separate operation with separate management – last week and will begin selling tickets early next year (it hasn’t yet said where specifically the Calgary-headquartered airline will fly). The idea is that seats will be significantly cheaper than a traditional flight, but customers would have to pay extra for things like space in overhead luggage compartments.

Swoop (named via an employee contest that received 985 submissions) will go up against low-cost carriers like Vancouver-based Canada Jetlines – which is aiming to hit the skies next June – and Kelowna, B.C.-based Flair Airlines, which purchased another carrier, NewLeaf, earlier this year. Air Canada is also reportedly planning on entering the ultra-low-cost market.

Here, we asked EVP of strategy Bob Cummings a little more about the opportunity WestJet sees with the new brand.

Describe the Swoop brand.

We’re describing the brand as affordable, friendly, reliable. We’re describing it as a powerful verb that denotes that we’re coming into the Canadian travel market, swooping in with a new business model to provide lower fares and a greater opportunity for Canadians to travel.

The research that we did resoundingly came back with positive connotations around Swoop with respect to movement. It had a connotation around being a challenger, irreverent. We tested both magenta and green. Magenta ended up getting the nod, it came back as a friendly and fun colour. When we benchmarked that colour around the world and looked at companies like T-Mobile and all the various executions, it does work very well across all mediums.

Why was Swoop an important addition to WestJet’s existing offering? 

We have been analyzing this since about 2012. We’ve always had the plan to evolve our business more into this market. There is a growing demographic of travellers who are looking primarily or exclusively for the lowest fare to travel from point A to B, and when we made the decision to announce, we wanted to be the first carrier into the market in a material way. We believe that we have all the capabilities to go and grow that market and own that market.

Who specifically is that target consumer for Swoop?

We’ve analyzed the market. There’s millennials, who have a certain level of disposable income. Their willingness to go on off-peak days, off-peak times and for leisure as well as visiting family and friends and relatives – that’s certainly one of the target markets. And really, any household that’s below about $110,000.

When you look at the number of Canadians going over the borders in both Ontario and B.C. to travel from border airports, like Buffalo, Detroit and Bellingham [in Washington] to catch ultra-low-cost carriers and travel south from there, there’s a significant market by itself repatriating those Canadians back into Canada.

We’ve assessed the market as 50% to 60% leisure and 40% to 50% visiting family and friends.

What will the marketing be like for Swoop?

We haven’t finalized that plan. It’s going to be largely a digital company and our operations were picked with that in mind with respect to what’s required from the capabilities to keep this low cost. One of the key approaches is making the communication absolutely as clear as possible during the booking process online so that the traveller knows exactly what they’re signing up for for purchasing the seat and then the extras that they want to purchase for their trip.