by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Apparently airlines attract the most negative sentiment on social media networks. Much of this may actually be unfair as it’s outside the control of the airline – weather delays or security protocols etc But some, undoubtedly, is fully merited like the stupid fare rules or the random charges for extra baggage or good old shoddy service.
On social media I usually say nice things about my airline of choice, Aer Lingus. I note the names of friendly cabin crew and I tweet thanks to them. I compliment the airline frequently for its superior executive lounge product at flagship hubs like Dublin. I do this because I believe it’s right and good to pay a compliment. I also do it because Aer Lingus plays a hugely important role in enhancing the overall brand position of Ireland and that helps my business too.
I say this by way of background to the tweet exchange that I’ve been having with Aer Lingus, on and off, for the past couple of months. It started when the airline brought in a new on-board food selection curated by Irish celebrity chef , Clodagh McKenna (whose recipe books are a huge hit Chez Gilligan). Called Bia – the Irish word for food – the new menu is wonderfully appealing and colourful, presented across 6 folding panel on an A3 size print piece.
Front panel prominence, under the strong masthead with confident tagline “simply good food”, is given to a cappuccino with the Aer Lingus shamrock etched into its foam and a delicious looking buttered scone with strawberry jam served on a natural wood board. A smiling Clodagh is there too underwriting the entire offer.
Throughout the copy there’s a strong emphasis on “Irish” – Irish Breakfast, Irish TV Chef, Fresh Irish Scone … served with Irish butter, juicy Irish chicken breast, Irish Croque Monsieur. The word “Irish” occurs no less than 12 times on the 3 inner panels. On the Bia Treat Cupboard page the Irishness of specific products is emphasized – The Nation’s favourite, New Irish products, Made in Ireland, Made with Irish Butter etc.
So what’s the problem?
Actually, I think there are three inter-related problems – marketing and communications, product quality and brand value proposition – all caused by a humble scone! The marketers for Bia (is it Aer Lingus or an out-sourced agency?) have done a great job at creating demand for the products listed on the menu. The copy is great, the food styling excellent, the photography brilliant.
However, it’s fundamentally misleading. The scone is baked in County Antrim, Northern Ireland (no issues with that at all) but is presented in a tacky plastic package with a portion of butter and jam complete with Union Jack on the jam packaging. The butter is possibly Irish but it’s not Kerrygold, the usual brand used by Aer Lingus. When I engaged on Twitter with the company this is what ensued – poor communication overall without knowledge of the actual facts:
Quality-wise, I cannot imagine that Clodagh could be happy to have her name and reputation associated with this item. When you extract it from its plastic packaging, it’s sweaty and moist on the outside, bone dry and hard on the inside and certainly not “packed with juicy sultanas”. The butter portion lacks generosity with barely sufficient amounts to cover both sides of the cut scone (it’s a full size smaller than the Kerrygold portion size) and the jam is like congealed wallpaper paste. It makes a total joke of the claim to have “sourced these ingredients from all over our foodie island to bring you fresh, tasty, homemade food using Clodagh’s special recipes”.
Finally, and most importantly, I think this simple scone flies in the face of the brand value proposition that Aer Lingus is cultivating (and, let it be said, mostly successful in achieving). For most of us scones take us back to our childhood, to our Mothers’ home baking, to a strong sense of the comfort of home with a big bit of Irishness in there for good measure. The humble scone is a powerful food item for Aer Lingus to align its brand around for its triggers all of these positive sentiments.
But I don’t get any positive feelings at all with this scone.
What I get is something mean, cold and hard with an English flag on it.
Pádraic Gilligan is a loyal customer of Aer Lingus – he currently has Elite status on the frequent flyer programme. He has inconvenienced himself on many occasions in order to chose the airline that flies the national flag. He mostly receives excellent service on Aer Lingus but occasionally has bouts of frustration like the on-going poor standard on on-board coffee (why is it instant coffee when coffee tastes, clearly have matured over the years?) and the fact that Aer Lingus appears to be listening on Social Media but I’m not convinced they are. With Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum, he runs SoolNua, a boutique consultancy offering another viewpoint on marketing for meetings and conferences.