In face of two horrific tragedies, can Malaysia brand ever recover?
July 22, 2014
Within a few months of each other, two large, nearly full commercial airplanes tragically went down killing every soul on board. The first jet presumably disappeared over the Indian Ocean and, unbelievably, has yet to be found. It may never be found. The second, of course, was almost definitely shot down by Russian Separatists over Eastern Ukraine. As I write this, the world is rightfully growing more and more furious at the Russian government for enabling this horrible byproduct of a petty, ego-driven war.
Both tragedies are variations of every air traveler’s ultimate nightmare. I don’t know which is worse: disappearing from the face of the earth or being blown off of it.
That they were both jets from the Malaysia fleet, defies comprehension. What are the odds? Thankfully, the chances of anything going tragically wrong on an airplane are tremendously long. That two worst-case disasters like these befall the same carrier, one after the other, is mind boggling.
Before continuing I want to draw attention to the following: I’m writing the next few paragraphs with respect and compassion for the hundreds of people who lost their lives and the thousands of others whose lives have been altered forever. Still, it won’t be enough for some readers. You may claim: too soon! Perhaps. I beg your pardon.
But as an advertising professional, attuned and trained to servicing brands of all kinds, I can’t help but wonder what this double disaster means for the relatively tiny Malaysia Airlines. While I don’t think the company will go out of business I cannot imagine it will be good for business either.
Do you believe in karma, good or bad? If so, can brands have it, lose it, or gain it? In Adland we talk about brand personality all the time. We shape brands for a living. With the advent and proclivity of social networks, corporations are necessarily behaving and speaking more and more as people do, with souls and consciences (or lacking them).
When a person is deemed bad news people stay away from him or her. Malaysia airlines have had a stunning amount of bad news. Will people stay away? Though one event (and perhaps both) wasn’t an accident, I think most reasonable people realize the two tragedies were entirely coincidental. Still, who wouldn’t think twice about booking passage on Malaysia? We know flying is ranked near or at the top of every phobia known to man. People associate it with all manner of intangible fears. Flying on ‘cursed’ planes? That can’t be good. And what if trouble does come in threes? Will the next Malaysia aircraft to take off be the third one to go down? God forbid.
Superstitions aside, brands do go through awful things. Remember the Tylenol murders? Most recover eventually, but the short-term losses can be significant, from a sales perspective as well as from the inevitable insurance claims. MH 17 knowingly flew over dangerous skies. They will pay dearly for that.
You might rightfully consider these questions arrogant and morbid but mark my words they are being asked, in so many ways, by the owners and operators at Malaysia airlines. I’m guessing marketing by the airline has been halted until further notice. For obvious reasons, a brand associated with tragedy will shun advertising. It’s too self-serving. At this sensitive stage just seeing the logo makes people cringe.