Here’s What Delta Doesn’t Get About The Pacific Northwest

Filed Under: Alaska, Delta

Yesterday Ben shared Delta’s latest attempt to win over the hearts and minds of the people of the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle specifically, with their latest “Center of it All” commercial:

Now, I’m not going to claim to be a “native” Pacific Northwesterner (I lived there for long enough to know that my three years of middle school and two college degrees from public Oregon universities do not count, nope, nope, nope), and know that even growing up in Idaho means I’m an interloper as far as those west of the Cascades are concerned.

My husband, however, is an authentic PNW-ite — like, he’s the first person in his family to leave the region for anything other than a brief vacation to an adjacent state since his great-grandparents got off the boat from Europe levels of authentic.

So I’d like to think I at least understand the mindset.

Ben’s initial thoughts, which probably mirror those of the high-priced marketing agencies in LA and NYC that designed the ad, were summed up thusly:

I think it’s a brilliant ad, personally. It’s abstract at first, highlights how Seattle is the center of the world (there’s nothing more people there want to hear), and plays off of how beautiful the region is.

But here’s the thing — Seattle isn’t Los Angeles. Or New York. And doesn’t want to be. 

Pacific Northwesterners know they aren’t “the center of the world” — they know they’re a little isolated, and are proud of that. The remoteness has inspired ingenuity and scrappiness, which are some of the most highly-admired qualities in the region.

This is a part of the country that believes in hard-work and authentic relationships, considers farm-to-table a way of life rather than a passing fad, and supports the underdog because the region itself has always been a longshot, and solidarity is more ingrained than recycling.

You also can’t compliment the scenery in the Northwest without revealing yourself as an outsider.

Sunrise over Mt. Rainier (“Ray-near” if you’re from the PNW, “Rainy-er” if you’re not)

It’s like commenting on the cafe culture of Paris, or the impressive architecture in Italy. They know they have the monopoly on nature and vistas — it’s normal, and not something anyone there would ever vocalize. Once you start talking about how beautiful things are you might as well put on suede shoes, carry an umbrella, and crack open another plastic bottle of Evian. You ain’t from here.

Essentially, Delta’s attempt at showing how much they “get” and “relate” to the Pacific Northwest sounds like this to the actual locals:

It tries too hard, and reinforces the idea that while Delta might be a great airline, it’s never going to be the airline of the Pacific Northwest.

If you actually want to market to Northwest natives you need to ditch the fancy graphics and celebrity voiceovers for something real. And they still might not like you, because distrust of “new” is a thing.

So who does this ad appeal to?

California and New York transplants who happen to live in Seattle.

And maybe that’s enough for Delta — after all, that’s probably the segment of the population spending more on international travel.

But for native Pacific Northwesterners, this ad likely cements Delta’s status as an interloper who doesn’t “get” their values.

What do you think? Let’s take it to a vote (and please be honest with the geographic separation):

If you live, or are from, anywhere other than Alaska, Washington, Oregon, or Western Idaho:

[poll id=”82″]

For those from, or who have lived in the Pacific Northwest for more than ten years:

[poll id=”83″]

  1. You said everything I wanted to say in response to Ben’s article but you wrote it much more eloquently. 😉 I was also thinking that the ad will appeal to outsiders, and the outsiders spend enough money to make Delta happy but Alaska won’t really suffer or be hurt because us locals will support them. (I say this as an international school teacher living far away but born and raised and educated in Washington state… When I land at SeaTac and drive to my family’s home something just feels right).

    You do have a good understanding of the PNW mentality. LOL at your two degrees from OR not counting, 😉

  2. I agree with you but your poll might just end in confirmation bias. I think your sample is inherently skewed against Delta.

  3. Skypesos put them at a disadvantage in a non fortress hub city. I tell all my coworkers to avoid Delta and people generally get how useless their miles are or have their own story. Maybe it’s a small effect but it’s there. Kinda makes all their advertising ring hollow to.

  4. Oh yes. The locals only support the local businesses. Interesting, because in the 12 years I lived there, everyone went to local coffee places and wouldn’t be caught dead in Starbucks. And used MacBooks, because they’d never use Windows. And a Surface or Zune? Please…

    But for some reason, airlines are the thing that they’ll defend to the death? C’mon.

    First – and yes, I’m currently Delta Diamond – flying through SEA a lot on the way to Asia. Monthly. The planes are full. Arriving and departing. This ad can’t hurt Delta – and worth mentioning again, Skymiles aside, they run a great operation with a pretty good, and getting better, product. Especially with flat beds coming back to the JFK routes. I’ll do that any day vs. an Alaska first class seat.

    You’d think that authentic, artisanal, farm-to-tablers would like another airline option. Sure, fly Alaska, unless it makes more sense to use Delta for a trip.

    But I guess it’s more fun to be selectively passionate about the hometown brands.


    Someone about to get flamed because his 12 years there doesn’t count as actual experience.

  5. Spot on, Tiffany. You – and your husband – mirrored my thoughts exactly in comment to Ben’s post from yesterday.

  6. I grew up in the PNW and spent the majority of my life there but now live on the East Coast. I still pass the pronunciation tests for “Oregon” and “Mt. Rainier.” Does that make me a true PNWer?

    I really wanted to like Alaska as they have that local feel to them, but their service cannot compete with Delta’s.

    I’ve flown cross-country several times over the past 12 months (which is nothing compared to some here), but I have been going out of my way to book connecting Delta vice non-stop Alaska where feasible. I get the whole Skypesos bit — they can be very frustrating to redeem miles on. But for most people the main concern is having a good experience when you pay the premium for a premium cabin.

    Flying Alaska, I do not feel like I paid for First besides having a wider seat with 6 more inches of legroom.

    Following up on what Neil S. said, I do not feel like I SHOULD fly Alaska. In fact, after comparing DL to AS on a few trips (DL for 1-way and AS for the other) I can safely say that the DL experience has been much better.

    As for the ad, I enjoyed it. DL has many int’l nonstop from SEA and that’s the idea that was reinforced in my head when I saw it as a PNW native.

  7. What an insulting picture you paint of the people of this region. They’re sheep that mill march to the local trough even in cases when the value proposition is lower and not in their best self interest.

    I always figured the Seattleites to be smarter than that. So they won’t evaluate the full range of products in the marketplace and choose the one that best suits their needs at the time?

    Great ad. Offensive and biased post.

  8. Wow, I had no idea that the folks of the PNW (oops I can’t use that acronym because I never lived there)…er from Washington & Oregon…er OreGUN were such provincial douches. That is certainly not my experience but then, again, I am not a local so I should not even weigh in. But I’m sure the entire region of people love the condescending description that treats them as one single amorphous mass of thought/action.

    Thanks for clearing that up Ben & Tiffany with your two 8,000 word essays on the people of the PNW (yeah I said it)…..on consecutive days.

  9. 23 years living here and I will never be a native. But yes it is beautiful around here.
    Seattleites get on and off the planes the same way they drive. Slow and don;t give a damn about everyone else around them. The concept of merging onot a highway does not exist to the natives. Its selfish and infuriating. That character trait has also made them highly sucessful, businesswise. You just have to get used to it.

  10. On the ad: It is a very well-made and makes great use of an iconic Seattle location (the Rem Koolhas library building).

    On DL vs. AS generally: The suggestion that a significant number of travelers — especially business and other high value travelers — make airline decisions based primarily on local pride is ridiculous. Cost, network, flight timing, and many other factors (including mileage program) are much more important. And yes, I did live in Seattle for part of my life.

    Are there some people who make decisions based on local pride and supporting the little guy? Of course. Are they a significant part of the traveling population — even in the Pacific NW ? No.

  11. With 7 generations in the greater Puget Sound I think Tiffany mostly nailed it. I see nothing wrong with being proud of where one lives- a strong value in prioritizing hiring one’s neighbor or the local business over some outside mega business certainly buffered the effects of the recession on my small town. We kept our own small town economy cycling. That being said, I still fly Delta plenty. For price point, last minute availability, and cuz the service and comfort in coach is decent. And Alaska is pricey and cheap award space that’s accessible with UR fills up. We’re generally not stupid here, just loyal. What goes around does come around here and if Alaska is available at a competitive price, they are a great product in my eyes- and our local one, of course I would book them first.

  12. Delta doesn’t need to “get” the PNW – how self centered to think that anyone should.

    Delta needs to provide a superior product to people living there. This ad shows that you can fly non-stop from Seattle (Sutherland doesn’t say center of the ‘world’ – he’s says at the center all along not edge, as close to Tokyo as to London – read that as Seattle can be a hub for non-stops). It’s not trying to show they “get” you. Alaska’s product is sub par compared to Delta – very much so. You may hate skypesos, but most business travelers (not hobbyists) are paying for the actual product, not for a reward program. Not everyone travels from San Diego to Las Vegas via Los Angeles.

    I love your posts, but this one is just silly.. I know the whole point is to create content to get more hits to get more advertisement.. but I still come here! Most people who read this blog hate Delta because their reward program is not up to their standards for free flights. But they are the best U.S. airline and that’s what matters really at the end of the day, and I can’t fly Alaska to London or Tokyo, now can I?

  13. So, I don’t disagree with the people saying “but if Delta is offering a superior product at a lower price, then hometown pride shouldn’t matter.”

    That’s actually the point. Delta doesn’t need to play the “look at how much we get you, PNW” because 1)they obviously don’t, and 2)they can compete on price, product, network, etc.

    If I (or probably anyone familiar with the PNW) were consulting for Delta, the advice would be to develop an ad-campaign focused on the facts and benefits, rather than trying the more intangible “feel good” angle. That would likely get them more traction in the market than what they’ve done here.

  14. I grew up in Seattle and, though I’ve lived in San Francisco for about 10 years, my whole family still lives here and I’m back for a weekend about once a month. I happen to be here now! And I couldn’t possibly agree more with what Tiffany says. Her take on Lucky’s quote is spot on. I bristle every time he says he lived in Seattle. There’s no shame in living in Bellevue or Oakland or Vancouver, WA, but that’s absolutely not the same as living in Seattle or San Francisco or Portland.

    I also think that commenters such as @Theonlywaytofly and @RoloT are missing what this conversation is about. Of course Seattleites are smart enough to fly the product that suits their needs best and are as likely to book based on price as anyone. This conversation is about brand perception. You can argue how important or unimportant brand perception is when all is said and done, but that doesn’t change that that’s the topic. And the perception here is that Delta is an interloper.

    The ad is fine, but it doesn’t do anything to change that perception. It’s pretty and shows the international, nonstop options that DL brings to the party, but phrases like “at the center all along” and “You can’t stop Seattle” feel like the grossest kind of pandering. And what the heck does “at the center all along” even mean? This is a place where every school kid logged at least 100 hours of Oregon Trail in an edutainment effort to get us to understand just how difficult and dangerous it was to get here before the railroads were built.

    In Tiffany’s conclusion, she says that the ad is probably for newer, business-oriented transplants to the region, and that it probably reaches them just fine. And that’s fine, because something that else that some of the commenters here seem to fail to understand is that, like any place, the PNW has a diversity of perspectives and opinions. There is absolutely not a single, monolithic response to Delta from people here, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfair to make generalizations in order to enable a conversation about how Delta might fail to “get” Seattleites and what approach might do better.

  15. One more anecdotal data point. I just showed this ad, without any context, to my sister-in-law, who has lived here her entire life, and couldn’t be less of an avgeek, and her initial response was a polite “that’s cool.” When I asked her if it spoke to her? “No, not at all.”

  16. I will now fly Delta for all my domestic travel in and out of Seattle. I want Alaska Air to be crippled. I would just love to see our local economy beaten into the ground by big outsiders who would drop us like a hot potato if and when another city makes them more money. Leaving us, of course, with worse service than before they were here. While, I’m at it let’s hope the Starbucks is bankrupted, Microsoft bought out and moved to India, Amazon (well never mind), and Boeing completes its jilting of Washington state. Then we will all can go back to being hard working, underpaid lumberjacks. Yep, that is what I want. Go Delta!

  17. This is precisely why the Alaska/Virgin America purchase was such a bad idea, from a cultural-fit/customer expansion standpoint. Flashy/big-city is what Virgin America is all about.

  18. @Tiff, I think your last point is the most salient one. Delta isn’t targeting itself toward long-time Seattlites.

    It doesn’t need to.

    The sheer volume of talented people with disposable income that Amazon (and Microsoft, to a lesser extent) have imported from other places, not just NY and California, is not something to discount.

    There’s the old guard of Seattlites, who might choose Alaska (if they care that much, and I imagine many don’t).

    And then there is this whole wave of upwards of a hundred thousand tech-industry immigrants from not just elsewhere in the country, but also abroad. They have money to spend, places to fly to, and more demanding standards than “it may be no-frills, but it’s our hometown airline!”

    So (in my mind) Delta’s targeting a far different market than Alaska is. Delta isn’t going after the fifth generation PNWers. They’re going after the families who moved from Northern Virginia to Bellevue for a lucrative job at AMZ, who get a kick out of seeing “the Mountain” on a clear day and taking their kids to the San Juans on a summer weekend, who embrace PNW life in the same way that a wide-eyed innocent who moved to Manhattan a year ago might pride himself on saying “waiting on line” and ordering his bagel “with a schmear” and knowing his way around the subway system.

    Because, at the end of the day, who is a more lucrative market for the airline? The thrifty generations-long Pacific Northwesterners? Or the Amazon employees with a $350,000/year salary and an extended family back East?

  19. Me: 14 years in seattle now, previously CA. ~100-120k miles/year int’l in biz and another 30-50k/year domestic mixed between econ and first. Just landed from dubai yesterday in fact. Depending on what I have going on, I vary between MVPG, 75K, and UA gold and platinum. Plus random others. And I fly delta to asia/europe a few times a year vs the other options.

    I don’t care one whit if they capture the ambiance provided they still let me credit miles to alaska. Because when I’m paying for my own trips, it’s more than likely going to be on AS because of the convenience. If they fully de-partner, then I’ll re-evaluate but it’s more likely that I simply stop flying DL, and the only destination that leaves me without a nonstop is HKG… which doesn’t bother me. Alternatively, I’ll ditch the *A world and go to delta for my ‘alliance heavy’ flights. But it’s got nothing to do with who gets the culture more – it’s about where I can extract the most value and earn points of value to spend on the trips I want to take for fun.

  20. Oh, what a bunch of pedantic baloney this post is… “They know they have the monopoly on nature and vistas”. Sorry no. Many places in the world have nice vistas, nice nature and all. Get a grip on reality. Want to see some splendor, here some examples:

  21. @Tiffany You are so sweet, I think you would qualify as a “Greater PNW’er” .
    I had no idea people would mispronounce Mt. Rainier unless it was a purposeful pun on the areas climate. So many people just don’t understand the PNW and that is OK. Come visit, then go home.
    The Delta ad made very little sense to me and sorry but I’m not going to waste any more energy trying to understand it. Better things to do. Have a great day!

  22. I fly ANA and EVA to Asia from Seattle. I hope CX adds Seattle soon. Fly British and Lufthansa to Europe. Fly Emirates to Midwest or South Asia. Internationally I would not fly Delta (or other US carriers.)

    Put these international miles in Alaska or United FF program.

    When I fly domestic I would fly Alaska instead of Delta, since I have miles from my international travel credited to Alaska, not Delta. Alaska also has more destinations and higher frequency from Seattle. Crews are mostly pleasant and happy. Fellow passengers seem to be happier.

    Alaska probably has worse hard product than Delta, but it’s usually just a 2-3 hour flight. Hard product doesn’t matter that much for short hauls.

  23. Fourth generation Seattlite reporting in. Though I do carry an umbrella, drive with confidence, am currently wearing suede shoes and let myself leave the region quite a bit. Admittedly if Seattle was a tribe I would have been banished long ago, thrown out to sea by a band of cranky grayhairs in $300 authentic drizzle-proof GoreTex jackets. I can confirm the PNW mindset and this ad is definitely aimed at transplants. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just business.

    Now to get back out to this 75 degree sunshine! I mean rain…it rains every day here. (:

  24. Delta will fill their long-haul flights with connecting traffic from 5-15 cities — and perhaps only 15-20% from SEA. (Tiffany might be missing the point of a hub.) Is “Alaska” based in Anchorage or Juneau? No. Competition is a great thing! Alaska & Horizon need more of it! The entire region will benefit: more jobs, more travel options, more advertising, more support of regional sports, more support of non-profits….

  25. I’m not from the PNW but have enough family, friends and days there. Thumbs up to this post!

  26. I have no skin in the game (though was happy to be in a lie-flat when visiting earlier this year from ATL, which wouldn’t be possible without that hub). However, if I were a native, I’d be skeptical of DL’s long-term commitment to the area. Have we forgotten when PDX was supposed to be their great PNW hub?

  27. It’s a simple point: NW folk arent the bragging type. Things are a little more casual. A tagline like this one is cute, and I’m sure some insecure people will love it, but definitely doesn’t feel homegrown. I believe that’s all the writer is trying to say.

    Will delta have luck with recent transplants? Maybe. But their product is still subpar compared to Alaska’s, their mileage program is complete joke compared to alaska’s… So the only real upside is direct connections to some international destinations.

  28. That said, I think it’s great having delta take a shot at things here in Seattle. Competition is good thing.

  29. Also, if you work for Amazon, you probably don’t have time for vacation. They kinda work those folks into the ground.

  30. Hi everyone,

    I noticed that Neil S. said above that “flat beds are coming back to the [Delta] JFK routes”, but I can’t find any references to that anywhere. All I can find online are references to the short-lived BusinessElite flat-beds that were terminated. Will Delta’s JFK-SEA routes really have flat beds? If so, when? WIll F be a normal DeltaOne cabin?

    Thanks so much,

  31. Ironically I think Alaska has become a better airline with the increased competition up North. The VX acquisition is an opportunity to improve further. Whether or not Alaska is able to evolve into a competitor against the big 4 will be interesting to watch.

  32. I’m a Seattleite who actually try to fly airlines who fly Boeing (I’m not an employee). Boeing provides a lot of the backbone of the region’s economy. Delta curiously wants to be a hometown favorite when they purchase from Airbus and Bombardier. Their recent shenanigans were they tried to affect arbitrage style pricing on 777s hasn’t been forgotten. I like Delta’s service as long as it is Economy Comfort or front of the cabin. The regular economy cabin’s legroom is just too tight, especially for a long haul. For a shorter flight such as Phoenix, Alaska does fine by me. I am flying Delta this summer to Raleigh, but the fare was half the normal price.

    I lived in Portland back when Delta had a mini-hub focusing on flights to Asia. As they have done in other cities, Delta pulled out. When Delta has dominated a cities’ air traffic and pulled out, fares have risen. Look at what has happened to air fares in Cincinnati. I certainly do not trust Delta so all things being equal, Alaska will get my business.

  33. Great comments here. I’d just add that we’ve seen this movie before with DL at PDX…
    it ended badly, with lousy service, canceled flights, erratic schedule changes, racial discrimination claims, Customs issues, and generally everyone in town hating Delta.

    Service businesses are only as good as the people delivering the service– the the people-element failed badly in Portland.

    That’s how it ends here in SEA too…the only question is when?

  34. I would argue that Alaska Airlines is the best airline in the US for customer service.

    Watching the Delta add, I imagined some MBA back in Georgia thinking up how because of Delta putting Seattle on the map finally, perhaps the folks of Seattle can finally fancy themselves the center of the world. I mean, doesn’t everyone (including Delta MBAs) want to that the world revolves around them?

  35. So no one is welcome in the PNW, or “gets it” but natives??? Delta has pumped millions of Dollars and Jobs into SEA, more competition is a good thing, even in the “Insular” PNW

  36. I have lived in Portland for 24 years, but still not a native. Tiffany is spot on about our culture here.

  37. Go to Alaska’s Facebook and Twitter, and try– seriously though– try to find a negative comment. We in the PNW do shower our local underdogs (ahem, $5.9 billion for Delta in FY15, versus an airline celebrating its first foray beyond Mexico). We spend money for pretentious coffee, we dole out good cash for Patagonia and Marmot, we’ll drink Washington wine over Napa. Loyalty is not who has the better program (which with Delta should be obvious), but who attains more respect.

    Yes, Delta will cater to the Amazonians and Microsofties, and all those headed home on siphon flights to California or China. Perhaps Delta is or will make Seattle a profitable hub. That doesn’t guarantee it will be a respected community member (read: Amazon), who’ll have local support when things like Haneda happen again.

  38. Any original PNW’er knows that before the rise of Alaska Airlines, the northwest was dominated by United……Delta is just some southern upstart PNW wannabe. #GoCougs!

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *