Ill-judged and arrogant: Why Qantas and the NSW government fail to impress with ‘Meet the Sydneyporeans’

Qantas and Destination NSW's well-meaning campaign to promote its return to Singapore stopovers badly misjudges the sense of betrayal and disappointment Australian expats felt when the carrier moved to Dubai four years ago, writes Landor's Nick Foley.

Qantas recently surprised a number of its lapsed frequent flyers by announcing it will once again start using Singapore as its stopover point for flights from Australia to the UK, ditching its four-year relationship with Dubai.

It is not unusual for an airline to alter its flight path or schedule. However, when the said flight path has substantial history attached to it, and is fondly referred to as the ‘Kangaroo route’, the reintroduction of such a service may be met with some raised eyebrows from those who care to remember Qantas turning its tail fin on Singapore in favour of the desert state back in 2012.

To make matters more intriguing, Qantas have connected the reactivation of its Sydney-Singapore-London flights with an online campaign titled ‘Meet the Sydneyporeans’.

So what is a Sydneyporean? Perhaps it’s a Singaporean who was left grounded in Sydney when Qantas slashed its services to the Little Red Dot four years ago? A quick search of the newly-coined expression reveals it is what Qantas has dubbed Singaporeans who have chosen Sydney as their new home.

To capitalise on the ‘Sydneyporean’ theme, the airline has released three well-produced episodes that follow the lives of some Singaporeans now residing in New South Wales.

While the campaign does help make Sydney feel more familiar to new visitors, it does however hit turbulence given the context of how Qantas has treated Singapore since 2012.

As an Australian expat now residing in the Lion City, it feels as though Australia’s international airline might have badly under-estimated just how ripped off most of us ‘Singa-Aussies’ feel about Qantas’ short-lived affair with Dubai.

This may come as a surprise, Qantas, but by no means are we anywhere near the point of ‘forgive and forget’. Call me traditional, but if you want to make up with an old flame, I believe you need to consider that old-fashioned notion of an apology first. Sure, it might have been too much for Australia’s then-Prime Minister, John Howard, to grasp, but Victoria Bitter (VB) provided a textbook case study in marketing when it made a heartfelt apology to Australia’s beer-guzzling public back in September 2012.

For those who can’t recall, VB had reduced its alcohol content to 4.5% in order to lessen the amount it was paying in excise duties to the Australian government. VB’s loyal subjects were less than amused by this tax-minimisation antic and, eventually, the brand’s custodians made the wise decision to return the alcohol content to 4.9%. – although, not before saying a genuinely well-intentioned “sorry” to the disgruntled masses.

So, if an apology by an iconic, successful brand like VB is good enough for Australia’s favourite beer, why are we not seeing a similar approach by the country’s national flag carrier? At best, it may because the airline is blissfully unaware of just how jaded a number of expat Australians feel about Qantas dumping Singapore.

At worst it’s due to a trait that has beleaguered the airline in recent years: arrogance. Regardless of which it is, Qantas would do well to realise that brands are just like friends. When they behave unexpectedly and disappoint us, we stop trusting them. And here’s the thing about trust: it can take years to earn, but can be gone in the swipe of a boarding pass.

So while all may not be lost for Qantas, they have deeply misjudged the Singa-Aussie sentiment if they think they can win back our hearts and minds through all this well-meaning, but ultimately disingenuous chitter-chatter about Sydneyporeans.

Nick Foley is the president of Landor South East Asia, Pacific and Japan.


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