June 22, 2010— -- Spirit Airlines is at it yet again with another controversial ad, this time seemingly poking fun at the BP oil spill.
The ad -- like past ones -- has caused some to question if the airline is trying to be cute or just drum up free publicity by creating a controversy.
Tuesday afternoon, the airline launched a "Check Out The Oil On Our Beaches" plus get $50 off promotion. An email advertising the deal featured four women in bikinis lathered in sun-tanning oil who are supposed to be in four of the Florida-based airline's beach resorts: Atlantic City, New Jersey; Cancun, Mexico; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"Check out the oil on our beaches. You won't be disappointed," the promotion read. "Plus, we're making it cheaper for you to get there!"
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But before anybody had a chance to digest this and see if it was funny or just exploiting the news about BP's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- you know, another type of oil washing up on the beach -- the airline put out a statement.
"It is unfortunate that some have misunderstood our intention with today's beach promotion," the airline said. "We are merely addressing the false perception that we have oil on our beaches, and we are encouraging customers to support Florida and our other beach destinations by continuing to travel to these vacation hot spots."
The strange thing is that the pseudo-apology came out just a little more than an hour after the sale was announced. If anybody was upset, they sure moved quickly.
"It's more shameful advertising from Spirit that comes on the heels of another questionable campaign regarding its own pilots' strike titled "*Strikingly* Low Fares" with an image of a bowling ball knocking down pins," Anne Banas, executive editor of travel Web site SmarterTravel told ABC News late Tuesday afternoon. "Not only does Spirit seem insensitive to its own employees, but it certainly doesn't put its customers first. Case in point: Spirit's devolving refund policy during the strike. Plus, these sales themselves aren't very great, and the only value seems to be shock value."
Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson did not respond to phone calls and e-mails regarding the timing of the airline's apology or for examples of who was upset. She did, however, respond to a separate email asking to be put in contact with an anonymous customer who in that same one-hour period emailed the airline thanking it for promotion, an email that made it all the way to Spirit's public relations department in that short time.
"They have declined further comment," Pinson said in an email about that anonymous customer.
This ad is just the latest in a long stream of attempts to get free publicity off controversial promotions.
"They'll do anything to get free publicity and shouldn't be taken too seriously. Spirit is the airline that everyone loves to hate these days," said George Hobica, president of airfarewatchdog.com.
Although, Hobica said that this ad was "actually one of the less outré promotions Spirit has had."
"It's hard to tell if Spirit is merely tone deaf or just stupid," Hobica added. "They're the class clown-cum-bully of the airline industry. If Spirit were a character on 'Leave It to Beaver,' they'd be Lumpy Rutherford."
A week after Tiger Woods crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant, Spirit launched an "Eye of the Tiger Sale."
The Web ad features a tiger -- the animal, not the golfer -- wearing a black cap (you know, the type Tiger the golfer wears) driving an SUV into a fire hydrant.
"It's a jungle out there! Make sure you avoid all the obstacles and get the lowest fares," the ad said.
The company has also launched promotions using sexually suggestive acronyms that raised eyebrows among customers and eventually had the company executives feeling a bit "uncomfortable."
"I would expect no less from a company that shills for carryon bag fees by stuffing their CEO into an overhead bin for a YouTube video," Rick Seaney, CEO of airfare-search site FareCompare.com and an ABCNews.com columnist, said of the latest ad. "Spirit has been getting free publicity for years with ad campaigns that step right up to and lean over the line -- to me this one crosses that imaginary line by more than a few inches."