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In one of the more unfortunate marketing stumbles, Virgin America sent out a mass email Wednesday morning promoting summer travel deals. The ad campaign included a cartoon image of two tourists in a boat watching an alligator approach them with its mouth open.
The "Take a Summer Tour" campaign hit inboxes and social media Tuesday and it continued after a 2-year-old boy was snatched by an alligator at a Disney resort in Orlando. Later Wednesday, the boy's body was recovered.
At some point, the airline changed the alligator image in its marketing to a cartoon of a man floating in a pool.
Virgin America spokesman Dave Arnold told CNBC the airline has often used the alligator image in promotions. "The email distribution, social posts and creative assets had been scheduled for release before the terribly sad and tragic incident occurred at the resort in Florida," he said. "As soon as were aware of the news, we immediately removed the design from our social channels and halted the email distribution to our guests. We sincerely apologize to anyone who may have been upset by the design."
Alaska Airlines is buying Virgin America for $2.6 billion. This week Alaska CEO Brad Tilden told the Associated Press the company may let Virgin keep its name, as the brand has been so popular.
CORRECTION: Virgin America launched its summer promotion on Tuesday.