Spirit Airlines promotion cracks joke at Toronto mayor's expense

Toronto's mayor, infamous for admitting to smoking crack cocaine in a drunken stupor, was stripped of some of his powers Friday.

Toronto's city council voted 39 to 3 in the latest attempt to get Mayor Rob Ford to resign. Ford vowed to fight it in court.

Now, Spirit Airlines, the most popular airline serving Myrtle Beach, is using the controversy about Ford's drug use in a promotion for cheap fares to Toronto. Spirit offers seasonal non-stop flights from Myrtle Beach to the Toronto metro area via the Niagara Falls airport.

The Spirit ad shows a man in silhouette blowing smoke with the caption: "We're not smoking crack. This fare sale is real."

It's not the first time Spirit has used lurid or controversial news stories in its promotions.

Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner's sex scandal, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Miami Dolphins bullying incident have made it into previous Spirit promotions.

WPDE NewsChannel 15 showed the crack ad to travelers at Myrtle Beach International Airport to get their reaction.

"I think it's disgusting," said Celia Price of Murrells Inlet. "Why would somebody want to put something so negative in for advertising?"

"I think it's in poor taste and it can actually send a wrong message to a lot of people," said LaToya Murphy of Columbia.

Coastal Carolina University marketing professor Mark Mitchell says the promotion is an example of "buzz marketing", which means finding a hot subject and using it to a advertiser's advantage.

"It's really a quick-hitting kind of strategy, because tomorrow's socially hot topic will differ from today's," Mitchell said.

Mitchell says the promotion brings to mind Donald Trump's statement that even bad media is good media. It gets people talking about the company.

But, Mitchell says, there's a risk to being "brand quirky" or using what might be called Miley Cyrus marketing.

"Can you over-wear your welcome? Can Miley Cyrus become too prominent? Can Spirit overplay the buzz strategy and then people become, 'Oh, another quirky ad from them,' and then they start to tune out."

On the other hand, Mitchell says in today's crowded marketplace, companies have to do something to make their brand stand out, so:

"The fact that we're talking about it would indicate it must be working, in some way," Mitchell said.

WPDE NewsChannel 15 reached out to Spirit Airlines for comment, but they did not return our email or calls.

What do you think? Does the Spirit crack ad go too far?