“We’ve been trying to reach you,” claims the email from British Airways. Maybe they sent a carrier pigeon. I’ve received several of these messages in the past year, when the airline has wanted to make late changes to my flight. Yet there are no missed calls. There is something about the insouciant tone of this message, the cynical contempt it expresses, that goes to the heart of this week’s pilot strikes."
So writes Camilla Cavendish in the FT 13/9/19 "British Airways risks doing permanent damage to its reputation" (You may not be able to read it as it's behind a paywall)
Let's be honest, BA has been fucking up their brand for years, but it keeps flying, mainly because of inertia. Where else are you going to go when you need to be in New York tomorrow?
But that doesn't mean that their tenure as the 'World's Favourite Airline' will always be secure. By the way, that line was always a disingenuous distortion of a the truth. In fact, they are merely the world's most recognised airline, but that line isn't quite so catchy.
As Camilla says "Airlines become dehumanised at their peril. At Heathrow recently, I couldn’t get the BA check-in machine to accept my e-ticket. Looking around the shiny wastes, there was no human being in sight. Eventually I found a rather senior official who checked me in, and even found me a nicer seat. “Thank goodness you were here,” I said gratefully. “I shouldn’t be,” he responded wryly. “I’m not supposed to come down here. They’d like to get rid of all of us.”
All of which reminds me of a blog I wrote a few years back about brand hubris, which went like this:
Though it hardly seems possible at the time, all great brands come to an end and the consumer moves on; leaving the landscape strewn with the vast and trunkless legs of once-powerful companies...where they lie forgotten. Except by marketing lags, who use their fate as a cautionary tale against of the dangers of hubris
Who remembers when Reebok outsold an upstart from Oregon? Or Sega when they dominated gaming? I once had a Myspace page and I miss those trips to Helsinki to see the nice people at Nokia. Even… ahem… the mighty Microsoft once sneered like Ozymandias at those quirky folks from Apple.
Here’s Steve Ballmer commenting on iPhone as recently as 2008.
"Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market? (Laughter.) I want to have products that appeal to everybody... There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. ... I’ll bet our ads will be less edgy. But my 85-year-old uncle probably will never own an iPod, and I hope we’ll get him to own a Zune."
I've worked on projects for all these brands (even the Zune!) and, at the time, you’d have thought their empires would last a thousand years.
Don't get complacent people, it could happen to you... As Percy Shelley once wrote:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Although it seems unthinkable, but maybe BA will be the next great brand to take its customers for granted.