July 29, 2007

Flying The Unfriendly Skies

I'm just back from holiday discourtesy of Ryanair, the low-fares airline. I usually reply to complaints of their legendary poor service with a certain impatience. After all, we can hardly accuse the brand of being misleading. Everything about it screams of where you stand as customer in the pecking order.

So normally, I pay the low fare and take my chances. But I was struck yesterday by the more sinister side of the brand and its cheapskate values. We had paid a little extra to secure priority boarding and smugly made our way to the head of the line. As we stood waiting to climb the gangway at the front of the plane, there was a hurried consultation between cabin crew and groundstaff. The steward then indicated that boarding would be by the gangway at the back of the plane instead and the fairly orderly line broke ranks in an 'every man for himself, to hell with women and children' dash down the tarmac. Once inside the plane, the pushing and shoving continued as we battled to keep families together and secure good seats.

I sat in my seat shaken and not a little ashamed by what had been unleashed in me and my fellow passengers. I looked around and saw a mix of decent people like myself who had been reduced only seconds before to a selfish rabble.

Ryanair would probably argue that they had nothing to do with what happened but I can't help feeling that there's something in the brand that brings out the grasping and the mean-spirited in us all. They lead and, I'm not proud to say, we follow.

As a family, we've resolved not to fly with them again. Whilst their low prices are tempting, and they can certainly be credited with shaking up a complacent industry and opening up a whole range of routes, there's something unhealthy in the pressurised Ryanair that leaves me sick to the stomach.

I'll pay a little extra for the basics in courtesy that I get elsewhere and fly friendlier skies instead.

July 14, 2007

Brands Across The Water

In a recent Business Common Sense, Denny Hatch suggests that tourist boards should partner with overseas museums to promote tourism to their country. He thinks they should choose museums exhibiting related art or artifacts on the basis that "People that go to museums love art, have spare time and often plenty of spare cash. Many of them travel incessantly and are constantly on the prowl for ideas of new places to visit."

This is something I saw our own development agencies use to great effect in the '80's and '90's when Ireland was an economic backwater struggling to raise its profile. I'm not sure whether it was policy or not as arrangements seemed quite informal but it wasn't uncommon at the time to attend an Irish trade or enterprise event that had more going on from a cultural point of view than any other. Against a backdrop of Irish nostalgia for the 'old country', those first handshakes and 'what-are-you-havings?' set the scene for much of what followed.

Mind you, that same informality played sweetly to the brand Ireland values that our salesmen were plugging across the world. Once the link had been made, they could get down to the horse-trading of inward investment, joint venture or whatever.

I believe we often underestimate the social side of a brand when we go to market and I see those same salesmen as bold pioneers who played a much greater part in our economic success than we give them credit for. I think there's a lesson there for smaller brands who want to extend into new territories. A social route (which often crosses nicely with a sporting or cultural exchange) allows us to make much greater inroads than a more direct approach.

July 07, 2007

Sticks & Stones

I see that Mentos are offering visitors to their site the services of Trevor, your own Mentos Intern who you can have carry out a range of tasks for you including: 'call you in sick to work, prank call your friends for you and tell you how wonderful you are'.

Now, I don't want to seem too po-faced but I can't help but see this tendancy for companies to jump on a more sophisticated version of the British public-school brandwagon (with its glorious 'fagging' tradition) as a bad thing for both customer and brand-owner. This is not too far away from the nasty strain of bullying that has crept into parts of the online space and I wonder whether it's because that particular playground is as poorly supervised and regulated as the traditional public-school quad?

Nor is it clear to me how this particular venture fits the Mentos brand positioning (although I appreciate that the business may be 'minting' it in terms of visitors, brand awareness and confectionary sales). Tango went a similar route with its 'happy slapping' a few years ago and suffered when the phenomenon made its way into the real world.

I don't like bullies and it seems to me that too many brands go for the cheap thrill of tormenting the smaller ones in a bid to win some easy popularity.

What do you think? Am I taking some harmless fun a little too seriously or will this "all end in tears?"