BA – Striking the right note for consumers
Having recently revamped their first class cabin with much hoopla and with an always-scintillating Rachel Weisz, British Airways might have felt quite chuffed with themselves. A lot of people, however, were left quite upset in the run up to Easter as they were left holiday-less due to the strikes by BA staff. Part of Zeitgeist was abroad, though “luckily” they were travelling with EasyJet. BA stood to lose some even more ground to it’s low-cost rivals, and when the strike was announced earlier in the year, carrier BMI did not miss a beat in its print ads. National Express also sought to capitalise on the affair. To add salt to the wound, a software developer at BA recently tried to organise a series of suicide bombings to take place during the strike.
It became clear early on though that public sympathy was, for the most part, with British Airways. This could be because the airline have had to endure strikes before, or because the flagbearer is seen as one of the last vestiges of a bygone era of empire and erudite financial control; something to be proud of. BA seized on this and decided to engage in a bit of ex-ante damage control. It should be noted that the company are somewhat digital-savvy, as evidenced by their Metrotwin which began with things to do and see in London and NYC in 2008, and which at the end of last year added Mumbai too. However they have in the past failed to correctly judge the mood of the masses, such as when they replaced the Union Jack on their fleet’s tailfins with ‘world art’.
Brand Republic reported on March 2nd that BA had asked Agency.com “to create a social-media strategy aimed at providing customers with the latest information on services should the industrial action go ahead”. They also launched a paid search campaign on Google and Yahoo! to keep travellers updated. On March 15th they launched a viral campaign featuring a YouTube video of BA’s CEO Willie Walsh, criticising the strike and “reassuring customers that flights will continue”. Separately, Lord Adonis, the transport minister “waded into the row… telling the BBC he ‘absolutely’ deplored the strike”.
On March 19th, BA launched a print campaign “to emphasise its efforts to minimise disruption to customers during the forthcoming strike”. In it, Walsh states the airline will “keep [its] flag flying”. Walsh continued to appear in a series of videos as the strike got underway, reassuring travellers that the atmosphere at Terminal 5 was “very positive” and that “very good numbers” of cabin crew were coming to work, as well as answering media criticism. A survey of 1000 people revealed on March 23rd, “the majority of those who had seen BA’s campaign have either retained or improved their perception of the brand.” On March 31st, the day after the strike ended, BA ran a print ad campaign in most of the nationals thanking “thousands of customers” for their support.
Though not flawless, the exercise was unquestionably a successful one, and stands as an example for future brands in times of crisis: don’t ignore the issue, address the consumer quickly and directly, do everything you can to get through it. Stiff upper lip and all that.
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