Mumbai: India’s largest low-fare carrier IndiGo has launched a thinly veiled attack on closest rival SpiceJet, extending their battle for market share to an advertisement war that doesn’t leave out sandwich boxes and sickness bags.

“Desperation is in the air" is the title of an uncharacteristically hard-hitting print advertisement run by IndiGo, operated by InterGlobe Aviation Pvt. Ltd, which doesn’t mention SpiceJet Ltd by name, but leaves no doubt which competitor it’s referring to.

Words fly: The ads don’t mention SpiceJet by name, but leave no doubt which rival they are referring to. Madhu Kapparath / Mint

SpiceJet bills itself as India’s “most preferred airline" and claims to have an on-time performance that’s “amongst the best" in India. It has recently become aggressive with advertising on television and in print, claiming to offer the lowest air fares and the highest consumer value. SpiceJet says that it’s the Indian airline with the least cancellations.

Aditya Ghosh, president of IndiGo, did not return calls made to his mobile phone nor reply to text messages. An email sent to the carrier’s public relations agency did not elicit any response. A SpiceJet spokesperson said the airline would not comment on the IndiGo advertisement, in line with company policy.

A senior IndiGo executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his airline was changing its strategy of depending on word-of-mouth publicity. “Now it’s time to talk," he said. The executive didn’t say whether the advertisement was part of a series.

A senior SpiceJet executive, who also didn’t want to be named, said his airline wasn’t perturbed and had no plans to react to IndiGo.

Under a sub-head in the advertisement, titled “The best form of flattery", IndiGo claims its competitors had adapted its ideas, “from our ads, our custom-shaped sandwich boxes, to our website".

“Even our airsickness bags haven’t been spared," it says.

This is not first time airlines have battled it out through advertisements. In 2007, Jet Airways (India) Ltd billboards proclaimed: “We’ve changed." Rival Kingfisher Airlines Ltd promptly erected its own hoardings with the message: “We made them change."

IndiGo had a market share of 15.3% and SpiceJet 12.2% in January. IndiGo’s advertisement had figures showing it was one up on the rival in on-time performance, cabin occupancy and cancellation record.

Brand consultant Anand Halve said it was a bad strategy to respond to a rival’s ad.

“The fact that you acknowledge a competitor itself cues that may be you are feeling threatened," said Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd, and visiting faculty member at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad.

“The customer is not interested in ‘comparative presentations’... so this kind of point-by-point refutation is unlikely to even get read. And finally, the consumer is interested in hearing what’s in it for him, not in listening to your whining!" he said. “This is not an ad, it is a rant by someone who is angry," Halve added.