Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: BA's Catalogue of Terminal Mistakes

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: BA's Catalogue of Terminal Mistakes

Article excerpt

British Airways' Terminal 5 disaster will prove even more damaging to the BA brand than initial indications suggest.

A PR storm has been created by mismanagement, strategic circumstances and simple bad luck, and the events of the past few days will blight BA's brand for years.

British Airways is a Branded House; the best possible brand architecture for employer branding, service businesses and brand strategy. However, one of its key disadvantages is its vulnerability to crisis. When Coca-Cola endured the unmitigated disaster of Dasani, it took one on the nose and scrapped a brand that had been expected to make millions. But no damage was done to Coke, or any of the brands in its portfolio, because of the house of brands structure it operates. In BA's case, the problems at T5 hit 100% of the brand, all over the world.

Then there is the very specific damage done to BA's brand equity. At the heart of its positioning are 'reassurance' and 'reliability', making it peculiarly vulnerable to a debacle like that of T5. In branding terms, there is a world of difference between inconsistency and contradiction BA is facing the mother of all contradictions, amplified by global media coverage. Fortunately, it was able to scrap a scheduled BBH-created brand-building campaign citing T5 before it broke. This, however, leaves the brand facing a torrent of negative coverage and passenger experiences, without any possible injection of brand equity in the foreseeable future.

BA's marketing has also become its own worst enemy. Only a few days ago, it was drawing as much attention to T5 as possible, and promoting it as the future of the airline. The image of BA chief Willie Walsh, arms outstretched, gushing, 'I think it's great and it's going to get better. This is a hundred times better than anything else at Heathrow,' has been etched in the annals of PR blunders. Aside from undermining Walsh and his tenure as chief executive, this has compounded the damage to the brand. It is one thing to get it wrong. It is another to boast about how right you have got it, then get it wrong.

Once the crisis began, BA's well-prepared crisis-management plan kicked in. But despite the sincere apologies and professional PR job, this was a crisis that could not be managed. …

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