Airline's 'MILF' Promo Not What You Think

Spirit Airlines claims ignorance of acronym, but look carefully at the islands.


Dec. 3, 2007 — -- Act fast and you too can cash in on the "MILF" promotion.

The fire sale by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Spirit Airlines promises "Many Islands, Low Fares" deals as low as $9 for future travel dates between Fort Lauderdale and the Bahamas.

While the prices may be right, it's that promotional acronym that's raised eyebrows among customers and now has the company feeling "uncomfortable."

Before MILF became shorthand for a Spirit Airlines promotion, the acronym hit the mainstream as an obscene descriptor of a mother considered to be sexy.

The term was popularized in the raunchy 1999 feature film "American Pie," in which Jennifer Coolidge plays Stifler's Mom, an attractive, voluptuous woman who ultimately seduces a high school adversary of her son Steve, played by Seann William Scott.

In 2003, the band Fountains of Wayne released the song "Stacy's Mom," which ultimately peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard charts and became the No. 1 most downloaded song for iTunes. The song and accompanying video, which features an adolescent boy fantasizing about his mother's friend, rose to No. 1 on MTV's "TRL."

It's impossible to know exactly what percentage of Americans are familiar with the slang acronym, but Spirit Airlines maintains that the executive who authorized the MILF promotion did not know the connection.

"Not at all," Juan Arbelaez, the director of communications for the company's Latin American market, told ABC News when asked whether the airline was aware of the racy implications. "We started receiving some e-mails today."

Arbelaez said that Spirit's senior vice president of pricing is a British citizen who was unfamiliar with the MILF terminology and that the airline is not trying to offend customers.

"The most obscene thing we've noticed," Arbelaez said, "is what other carriers have charged to fly the Caribbean before Spirit's $9 fares." The airline has no intention of pulling the promotion, which runs until midnight today, he added.

Still, some observers wonder about the airline's claimed ignorance. A careful look at the Spirit's online ad shows a cluster of islands that appear to form a woman lounging in a pinup pose.

This is not the first marketing campaign by Spirit to attract attention some may consider dubious.

In 2006, after receiving dozens of complaints, Spirit scrapped an online promotional game called "The Hunt for Hoffa" that offered low fares and poked fun at the FBI's hunt for Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, USA Today reported at the time.

The promotion made a CNN list of dumbest business moments, but according to the company was the most successful in the airline's history.

While Arbelaez acknowledged receiving e-mails from customers regarding the airline's MILF campaign, he said that most found the connection amusing rather than offensive and that customers are responding to the airfare deals.

Tobe Berkovitz, the dean of the Communications College at Boston University and a marketing professor, said it's really "irrelevant" if the company knew about the connection or not.

"Maybe these guys crossed the line, but what most people are going to think is, 'Cheap flights, warm islands, count me in,'" Berkovitz said. "Maybe the thought police won't buy tickets, but the target audience will."

Berkovitz said that it's a great example of a marketing campaign that will generate buzz as the "hipster" demographic takes notice and influences the "mainstream."

"The young, the hip, they get it and then they tell the mainstream media, 'Yo dudes, this is a hot slogan,'" Berkovitz said. "It's the media food chain here."

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