Dear Qantas

Dear Qantas,

The romance is over. We’ve had a lifelong love affair, from my first few flights as an Aussie child to the first time I flew abroad to see the world, and then on to my proud career which has seen me travel to many corners of the globe. I always loved stepping aboard the flying kangaroo. No matter what far-flung place I’d just traversed, as soon as I heard the familiar accent of the flight attendants, I was already home.

But you killed it.

For all the miles, all my loyalty, all the years I’d spent being a comforted passenger, you tear it apart. I joined your loyalty program long ago. Why wouldn’t I? I was loyal.

But not you. You’ve mistreated me like a footballer’s wife. Sure, like the WAG, I hung on. I told myself it would get better – go back to the way it was. But you chipped away at my resolve until, today, I have awoken and will endure this relationship no more.

That’s the emotional parable. Now let’s talk business.

I’m in advertising. And I’m pretty sure I’m good at what I do. I understand brand dynamics and the business metrics. I’m all over the strategic intelligence behind marketing for acquisition and retention, the ROI of it all balanced against the imperative to build and maintain a brand.

Your ads sing the song. Your leverage the national heritage you have. You evolve with the landscape of the airline industry.

But you’re also scamming the very people you want to love you.

All the points I’ve racked up aren’t worth spit. No longer can a loyal flyer just convert those points into a well-earned seat. The limits on your ‘rewards seats’ are tight. You now fly through Dubai instead of Singapore, which has changed the entire dynamic of your market. It now means that no matter where a passenger flies from, the flight will be full on one of those legs (most often the Dubai to Sydney flight). Which means, there’ll never be a ‘rewards seat’ available.

How do I know?

One of your check-in staff at Heathrow International just told me. I’d always wondered why I couldn’t get a ‘rewards seat’, nor could I get an upgrade on any class seat I’d purchased. But when your staff member told me that the DUB-SYD leg is “always full” and that he’d “never seen an upgrade”, the penny dropped.

So my points are useless. But what about my member’s card? “To the lounge!”

Nope. That won’t get me in. Even the spare “With Compliments” card I have was rebuffed because it’s not valid at any One World lounge – only Qantas-branded lounges. But there isn’t one at Heathrow, one of the world’s largest and busiest airports. I wonder if there are any Qantas-branded lounges anywhere but in Australia?

So I write this in the British Airways lounge.

That’s right. I have a BA members card too. I guess I wasn’t the doting loyal romantic you thought. I kept a little affair on the side, just in case we didn’t work out.

And even though I’ve not flown anywhere near the number of miles on British Airways’ planes, and only been a member for 3 years (compared to the 20 years with you), they smiled and waved me in. I’m not even flying on a BA flight today. And I’m writing this on BA’s wifi as I sip BA’s gin.

This is where you’ve led me Qantas. You did this.

You drove me into the wings of another.



Social Media vs Crisis Control

I wrote this article in early 2015 but couldn’t post it at that time due to a potential conflict. Now I am able to publish it. While the actual incident may be out-dated by several months, the lesson remains as relevant as ever…

With all major brands now fully entrenched in the world of sharing content for customer engagement, especially via social platforms, the battle to win the hearts and minds of consumers is well and truly on.

But as in all battles: if you stick your head above the parapet, you may get shot.

DHL is the latest victim of this two-way exchange of content to build a connection between brands and consumers.

The international logistics company has amassed 191,348 fans on it’s Facebook profile. While it’s a far cry from Coca-Cola’s 90m (having long held the No1 spot) or competitor UPS’s 1.4m fans, it’s a valiant little effort from a brand in a low-interest utility/service sector. And they were proud as punch when they hit 50,000 likes back in June 2012.

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Their content has been the usual fare from such a well-known but emotionally undefined brand: pics of their plane transporting the Rugby World Cup trophy; a DHL drone delivering medicine (everyone needs a drone!); their new DHL car fleet in Serbia; and staff in yellow vests pushing yellow crates into a yellow truck. Their posts tend to attract between 50 and 1000 likes (the latter being when it’s connected to an event with it’s own mass following such as the Grand Prix), and an average of 100 shares.

So it would seem they’re doing what most brands do to engage with customers.

But all their efforts (over the past 3 years) can suddenly unravel in just 24 hours.

At the hands of a man called Pinky BuaChompoo.

Pinky (not his real name) is a kickboxer in the southern Australian state, appropriately named South Australia. On 3 November 2014, he happened to video DHL staff loading boxes in transit onto a truck at Adelaide Airport with the kind of deft handling one would expect if the task had been entrusted to wild gorillas who’d just been told Diane Fossey had been faking it.*

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See it HERE.

The video was posted online (as you do) and shared with DHL (as you do). In just 24 hours it had been viewed over 798,000 times, which is probably more than the cumulative total of all DHL’s social shares, likes, and comments over the past 3 years.

In that time, the video was  reposted on DHL’s Facebook page over 280 times by angry, frustrated, disappointed and otherwise upset consumers, thus spreading the harmful reputation. In fact, in the last 15 hours there was no other content or commentary posted BUT the video.

It even made it to the mainstream news media, getting column inches in the Adelaide Advertiser, Daily Mail and Herald Sun, and coverage on Channel 9 and Yahoo news.

To the Adelaide Advertiser, Pinky BuaChompoo said “I was just sitting in my mate’s car when I saw them doing it. I was really pissed off with their behaviour.”

“The reason why it bothers me is that I send stuff all the time internationally and domestically and the stuff ends up in damaged boxes.”

Interestingly, Pinky is no ‘influencer’ – that holy grail that brands are constantly wooing to help spread their company love to a large digitally-captive audience. He only has 5000 Facebook fans. Yet he managed to BE an influencer.

It used to be said “give good service and they’ll tell a friend, give poor service and they’ll tell 10”. This rule of thumb has been proven to be dramatically different with the advent of social media. A great (and somewhat identical example) can be read HERE. There’s probably some recent marketing maths that has worked out the ratio of epicentric influence one needs to spread negative brand commentary versus that required to spread positive brand commentary. Perhaps one pissed off Pinky with 5000 fans could achieve the equivalent but inverse impact on a brand as one happy vlogger with 5,000,000 fans. A 1:1000 difference between brand love and brand hate.

What did DHL do to stem the tide of brand hate?

Very little.

A spokeswoman responded to the Advertiser with the customary statement of being “shocked”, that this was “contrary to all of our policies” and that, of course, an investigation had begun. All fair enough in a press statement. Especially after a journalist has called your office to ask for a statement.

But this began in social media and could have been responded to in social media. While the left hand makes the obligatory corporate remarks to journalists, the right hand could be the professional yet more empathetic voice of the brand in social media.

That’s why brands participate in platforms like Facebook in the first place – to be a friend of the consumer. A chum. A buddy. A pal.

And be a quick wit, a friendly post, show a culture and personality that makes consumers think of themselves as – even just a little bit – a friend of the brand.

Scrolling back through the iterative posts of the video on their Facebook, DHL didn’t respond until the 94th posting of the video. Even then, rather than a broad announcement on their timeline to all concerned, it was this solitary comment to one random contributor:

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To add insult to injury, Pinky’s video went live about the same time as DHL shared a picture of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (LGO) entrusting the transportation of their instruments to DHL’s “TLC”. After that, they went silent. Total blackout. Even when people commented on the LGO photo to ask “is that like the TLC they give people’s parcels at Adelaide Airport?”. Nothing.

But how should DHL have acted?

Firstly, their social media and content strategy should have included a crisis management strategy, and possibly even some prepared and pre-approved posts ready to go. The fact that they did nothing instantly leads me to assume they had no such plan. One can only imagine their Content Manager sweating bullets as this outbreak spread across his feed, unable to respond because he hadn’t been authorized to do so.

Secondly, and this would have been easier with the aforementioned crisis strategy in place, they should have acted fast.

In a world of mobile-toting, quick-responding, soap-box-standing, social-media-dwelling consumers who can silently love a brand one minute and vocally abhor it the next, the 15 hours it took DHL to make any response was an online lifetime. The only saving grace here is that consumers often shrug and move on after firing their volley and receiving no return fire. Sometimes within hours. Even Pinky BuaChompoo’s Facebook timeline immediately returned to pics of his flexed abs and comments on Muay Thai sessions.

He did post this little comment, almost asking to be left alone now that his champion-of-the-people role has finished:

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But even though Pinky doesn’t want to talk about this – as much as DHL doesn’t – the evidence still remains. If the 280 people who posted this video on DHL’s page had moved on and not spared a second thought for what they’d seen, the video still exists for another 798,000 people to see, raise their fists, shout from their keyboards and touch-screens, and keep this lasting much longer than it took for DHL staff to toss a few boxes on a truck.

In a world full of Pinky BuaChompoos, who have a right to have an opinion, good or bad, and have the technological means to share that opinion, good or bad, then brands wanting to participate in social platforms need to be ready to respond to all comments, good or bad. They can no longer believe that social and content is a quick, easy, cool and fun way to interact with the people to show they have a heart beating inside their corporate logo-embossed chest, and then stick their head in the sand when their pool party turns sour.

Maybe I’ll send a presentation on all this to their marketing team. But I better send it via FedEx.

*She wasn’t. Diane was a true nature-loving legend of the century.

Hello, is anyone there?


In a world of data and automated systems, it’s getting harder to get good service from brands. They want information – a valuable currency – from us but sometimes aren’t willing to spend money – the other valuable currency – trying to get it. It’s called a ‘value exchange’.

Every now and then, I like to test the automated systems of brands. Just to see if anyone is watching. Or if anyone cares.

When the trusty old Yellow Pages (remember them in the days before the internet?) were trying to compete against online search, they implemented a freecall number with an automated system that allowed you to say the name of the company you were wishing to call. Voice recognition software then (hopefully) provided you with the right response and connected you to the requested company. In it’s launch period, it was a little glitchy. And the telco knew it so they had all calls monitored with a real life human being ready to jump on the line and help the caller – as I discovered when, instead of giving the company name to the auto system, I said “I fucking hate these things”, to which I heard the click of the human operator switch in and reply “so do I. What can I help you with?”

But now, pretty much all the auto systems are left to the 1’s and 0’s of a processor.

Here’s the SMS ‘conversation’ I had recently with Thames Water:


Failure is an Option

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The Cannes Lions Festival is so imbued with success that failure seems an illogical topic. All along the Croisette, delegates ask each other how many campaigns they have listed and how many converted. Chief Creative Officers (the most appropriate CWOs to attend the festival) make trophy tallies as a kind of Lion leaderboard. And the festival itself centres around the world’s largest advertising award show in which the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the top of the pops, are given metal lions. The winning work is scrutinized and shared by thousands around the world, to glean insights, be inspired, and hopefully beat next year.

However, across many of the 2014 festival seminars on several stages, speakers seemed intent on building an industry-wide culture in which failure is good. Perhaps because failure is one of the few things we all have in common.

Read the full article here.

10 Things We Have Learned From Apple & U2


For several years, brands have provided people with things for free, incentives, gifts with purchase, and all manner of ‘surprise and delight’ offerings to make people happy. Now it seems, consumers aren’t happy when they get something for nothing. As one commentator remarked on Twitter: “We are now scraping the bottom of the barrel of first-world problems.”

While brands will certainly learn from the Apple/U2 incident, I think we could all personally learn something to help avoid a similar calamity in our private lives, from the new perils surrounding the giving of birthday gifts to friendly donations, from over-filled wine glasses to toys in our cereal boxes.

Read the full article here.

How an Ice Bucket Broke the Laws of Marketing


Lately, our Facebook timelines are constantly drenched with buckets of icy water. In fact, the latest figures show there have been over 2.4 million ice bucket videos on Facebook, 3.7 million videos on Instagram, and 4.5 million mentions on Twitter. And more than 28 million people have participated in the campaign on social (comments, likes and uploads).

As brands have started to reach for their own buckets, or demand their agencies deliver an equally effective social campaign (for zero budget), let’s look at the many ways in which #icebucketchallenge has broken the laws of marketing.

Read the full article here

Stupid Headlines 101: An analysis


I received this Direct Mail piece. Having been exposed to the UK advertising industry now, I believe the headline on this letter was probably written by the client or, more accurately, the client’s legal department.

Let’s analyse:
1. The pointlessness.
Overall, it is a totally pointless point. They’re basically imparting some very clever insight about energy bills that we simpletons could never have worked out – if you use less energy, your energy costs less.

2. The contextual back-hander.
This same pointless point (see point 1.) is quite passive aggressive when you consider that it is pre-empting consumer response to price rises. So now they’re saying “hey, if you want a cheaper energy bill, don’t use so much fucking energy.”

3. The non-absolute.
This very complex dynamic between the actions of ‘using energy’ and ‘paying for energy’ that we simpletons could never have worked out (see point 1.), is actually not a fixed dynamic. Note the use of the non-absolute word ‘could’ in the headline, rather than the more absolute ‘can’ or ‘will’. Using less energy won’t necessarily mean they charge you less. They might. But there are no guarantees. I know, it’s a crazy mixed up world in which we live. (By the way, the price is about to go up (see point 2. you energy-using fuck)).

4. The double vague.
They coupled the non-absolute ‘could’ (see point 3.) with ‘help’. Both words being non-absolute now makes it even less likely to be a direct cause-and-effect relationship between using energy and being charged less. Or more, as the case may be (see points 2. and 3.).

Sending fewer pointless letters could help reduce your marketing costs.