New ad is nice, but Qantas needs a lot more than advertising to save itself

Paul Nelson Colour shotIn a guest post for Mumbrella BrandMatters managing director Paul Nelson looks at Qantas’ new TV campaign, arguing while it is a beautiful piece of advertising it is not enough to overcome the brand challenges of the past three years. 

On Sunday night Qantas launched its new TV campaign across all the major Australian TV networks.

The TV-led campaign is an attempt to get Australians to reconnect emotionally with the embattled brand. It is unquestionably a beautiful piece of advertising. But from a brand strategy perspective, it isn’t enough to overcome the brand’s challenges of the past three years and increase flagging revenue.

There is a succinct saying that neatly sums up the Qantas brand challenge: brand is a promise delivered. Unfortunately for Qantas, advertising alone can’t rebuild a broken brand – especially a brand that is perceived as not delivering on its promise to passengers, its employees or the Australian public more broadly.

Although advertising alone is insufficient to be the entire answer, there are three actions that Qantas can take to begin to rebuild its brand in the mind of its audience:

Rebuild trust:

When many Australians think of Qantas today they call to mind the 2011 global fleet grounding, the replacement of Qantas routes with budget partner Jetstar flights, sending maintenance jobs offshore, safety scares and recent rounds of large scale redundancies.

The erosion of trust is having both an emotional and economic effect on the former national carrier. Trusted brands have committed customers who are not only willing to recommend them to friends and family, but display a willingness to pay higher prices: a ‘trust’ premium. It is the result of long term investment and commitment and, unfortunately for Qantas, cannot be rebuilt in a day.

Reconnect with employees:

We would argue that the advertising as presented captures the emotion of when Qantas had proud and passionate employees – be they call centre operators, check in staff, cabin crew and even captains. There was something quintessentially Australian about that experience then, that made it ‘our airline’, especially when heading home, as the ad’s insight taps into.

It was a perfect balance of Aussie genuineness, good humour, and relaxed and friendly service, all underpinned by a safety record that was the envy of every other airline worldwide. But we all know what happened. After multiple rounds of redundancies, Qantas employees are doubtlessly fearing an uncertain future and, as a result, suffering from a lack of trust and feeling disengaged from their employer. Yet employees in a service business are an airline’s most valuable assets – a living example of the Qantas brand promise – and the impact of a disengaged workforce on a company’s bottom line can’t be overstated. Engaged workers feel valued and connected, and approach their work with far more passion than those who don’t.

Two of the keys to building a strong employee brand are demonstrating inspired, committed leadership and communicating a sense of vision; and offering employees the tools and knowledge to deliver on the brand promise.

Repair the customer experience:

Qantas needs to invest in ensuring that the rational experience of its service aligns with the emotional connection it is attempting to repair. Qantas needs to reassess what it is about its customer experience that makes it different, and use its reengaged employees to deliver on this unique experience on each and every flight.

For Qantas there is no simple advertising solution for repairing its reputation with its Australia audience, no matter how emotional and beautiful to watch. Alas, brands aren’t built or repaired by advertising alone. That said, when done well, advertising can act brilliantly to create awareness about your product or service proposition in a way that has your target audience consider or re-consider you and, in turn, view, read, listen, phone, click, or seek, to learn more. We hope (and in fairness, expect) that Qantas understands this.

As a business under pressure however, the natural inclination might be to outsource its brand repair work to its ad agency. Let’s face it; that’s much easier than what we’re suggesting. However appealing that might be, we would strongly caution against this. It must start with its leadership, its culture and its people. It must start inside, out. By doing this, it will rebuild its relationship with its employees first and instil the pride of the Qantas brand in them. In our view it’s this strengthened relationship with its employees is the only sustainable way to improve and create its desired customer experience.

Paul Nelson is managing director of BrandMatters.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.