(Ad campaigns referred to can be viewed at the bottom of the page)
Being in South East Asia, we are fortunate enough to experience a multitude of emerging and established local and regional brands. The multi-cultural mix of attitudes, creative expression, and unique selling points (USPs) from these companies can be richly diverse, captivating, and all attempt to touch us in highly emotive and other ways.
For a brief study, we will examine three regional aviation brands, all of which have gone through the emerging stage and have gone on to become established brands. They are Cathay Pacific Airways (www.cathaypacific.com), Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlines.com) and Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com).
In the independent 2002 study by Skytrax Research from London, UK, Malaysia Airlines emerged as the 'World's Best Cabin Staff 2002', with Cathay Pacific close behind, and Singapore Airlines relegated to third position.
Touted as the world's largest passenger survey with an excess of 1.5 million votes worldwide, the survey was gathered through the Skytrax Online Passenger Survey, Travel Questionnaires, and onboard or airport consumer interviews. Each passenger provided a single assessment or vote to summarize cabin staff qualities, including: efficiency, presence, attentiveness, friendliness, consistency among staff, attitude and sincerity of staff.
Granted, such a survey established emotively skewed results, and efficiency is but one of the factors amongst others. Still, air travel is a hassle and should be made as smooth as possible by the carriers, and the only way is to have great cabin staff. No technical excellence or technological marvel can bring about better service than people.
And, frontliners of any company, becomes the most compelling brand any customer will be touched by.
Paradise and innocence lost
In the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, all three carriers suffered tremendously in business revenue and profits, and have their painfully built up brands shaken and reduced to the backroom, through no fault of theirs. To make matters worse, the economic condition in South East Asia has consistently remained in the sidelines, with the stock markets showing continued weakness, poor consumer demand, weak corporate spending, increasing corporate insolvencies and individual bankruptcies, and regional troubles, right up to recent incidents in terrorist activity in the region.
With the regional and global troubles looming as dampers to previously stable and consistent growth to these carriers, and with decreasing monies in their coffers, these carriers could well have simply shrunk their operations down like some other Asian carriers, and hope for the return of a better day.
However, all three carriers became more aggressive in their advertising and promotional spending, with the intention to consolidate and build on their brands. After all, the worst of times can be the best time to weed out weaker competition, so long as your budgets can be stretched over a longer term.
The phoenix and the gorilla
Taking the cue from television commercials presented as the continued branding strategy of Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, and Singapore Airlines, we see that Malaysia Airlines and Cathay Pacific rejuvenates their branding with refreshing ideas as a phoenix rises from ashes, while Singapore Airlines continue on its track of using tried and tested imagery.
The philosophy of using a trusted, consistent and remembered image for branding can be sound. Many people can identify with Singapore Airlines' use of the stewardess in traditional Kerbaya uniform. It breeds a sense of familiarity and comfort. A recent television advertisement promoting the 'Krisworld' entertainment system had a stewardess comforting a huge gorilla on a rampage, advocating the sophistication of technology and the elegance of the 'Singapore girl'.
Conversely, the philosophy of reinventing or rejuvenating your brand image can also be sound, since branding can become dated, and consumers are easily fatigued by dated and overused images. This also explains why the field of advertising demands the use of new ideas, rather than rehashing ideas ad infinitum.
For example, Malaysia Airlines, on winning the 'Best Cabin Staff 2002' award from Skytrax, rejuvenated their previously understated but elegant television commercial to a new, vibrant and very memorable campaign known as 'Going beyond expectations'. The advertisement subtly outlines key benefits while presenting a well-written music composition that 'sinks' very well with viewers. The message behind Malaysia Airlines is clear, they rely on the best of their people, and the diverse service offerings they can present, to bring about service that goes beyond expectations.
Cathay Pacific has also caught on, with its 'I can fly' television campaign, where lively and cheery crew and support staff relay with strong bonds with each other, and ultimately culminating at the seat of a satisfied customer on the aircraft. The advertisement assures the viewer of the commitment of the entire Cathay Pacific team behind the needs, desires and requirements of the customer, whether that be technical, process, or emotive.
Winning customers back
Both routes, that of using tried and tested imagery and concepts, as well as that of using divergent and refreshing ideas, can lead to the sustenance of brands.
The caveat, however, lies in the 'noise' that customers can get used to. In an overcrowding of media vehicles where every vehicle fights for a slice of an ever-decreasing media pie, customers can get tired from the exploding amount of media 'noise'. When such an event happens, the customer simply uses the remote control to zap to other channels, and leave the intended branding campaign behind. Likewise, in print, customers simply flip the pages when the advertisements become almost uniform patches of 'noise', because the customers have become adapted to the advertisements and filter out the advertisements by ignoring them.
I would therefore suggest reinvention and rejuvenation as a thought for marketing directors for emerging and established brands. In an economy where the customer is king (or queen), and everyone wants a slice of his or her business, we should think like a customer, rather than be perennially castled in our own creative cubicles.
View an example of a Cathay Pacific Airways Ad (Quicktime, 7.8Mb)
View an example of a Malaysia Airlines Ad (Quicktime, 3.7Mb)
View an example of a Singapore Airlines Ad (Quicktime, 5.2Mb)