Teary Qantas ad campaign not the branding the airline needs

As with its staff uniform, Qantas’ new advertising campaign lacks a unique brand identity. Dean Lewins/AAP

With its new “Feels like home” campaign, Australian airline Qantas is seeking to “rekindle that emotional connection Australians have with the airline”. Improvements in staff morale and company yield are also expected, in what is the second major marketing activity since a new uniform was introduced in 2012.

The challenge for the once iconic airline remains creating a convincing point of difference and delivering much-needed improvements in customer loyalty.

The campaign falls short on some key marketing principles.

The golden rule of advertising dictates the brand should appear early in promotion material. Qantas shows its logo long after one minute – a lifetime for a society with a short attention span. The Qantas logo, planes and uniformed staff appear only subtly thereafter, which is perhaps not enough to trigger affection.

Key in brand building is the creation of positive, strong and unique associations with the brand. Associations typically relate to product attributes, coupled with an emotional bond. In this regard, Qantas’ campaign solely pushes an emotional spin with a “come home” feeling, but that is not unique to Qantas and also lacks the positioning of what the product itself has to offer.

The campaign starts with a slightly negative undertone with sad moments and faces. This is unlikely to create a positive, strong and unique association. The message for the consumer is too generic with a focus on the core product in aviation, which is transportation, or getting you home. But all airlines offer this service.

The approach does not differentiate Qantas from competitors. A true point of difference would have been featuring distinct Qantas service features, the augmented product in marketing terms, related back to the brand’s Australian heritage.

The clincher

The key problem of the new campaign is that there is no convincing marketing message. If you reside in Australia and book a ticket to return to Australia, then any airline will take you home.

The point to emphasise would have been the “how” – how does Qantas take you home? On this the campaign is silent, unlike competing brands that have gained market share and consumer preference through emotional campaigns centred on service quality.

The campaign does not sell a service proposition, for example an “Aussieness” in service, and that is a real missed opportunity. The same problem applies to the still relatively new uniform, which replaces one that centred on Indigenous Australian iconography – which made it clearly and uniquely Australian. Yet new research at Macquarie shows low recognition of the new uniform.

The “Feels like home” campaign is unlikely to dramatically improve consumer perception and preference for Qantas. Both campaign and uniform could represent nearly any modern Western airline. It could be British Airways or American Airlines - there is no distinctive element to it.

Qantas’s previous “You’re the reason we fly” campaign in 2012 had a better theme than the new campaign since it did precisely this. It told customers why they should choose to fly with the airline.

Promoting service quality is the name of the game in a hyper-competitive market. East Asian airlines have leveraged this understanding in their previous campaigns.

Korean Air promotes “Excellence in flight” with global campaigns on CNN and YouTube, stressing that “it’s all about you” (i.e. the customer). Asiana, also based in South Korea, promotes originality (serve customers with a fluttering mind), sincerity (treat customers like family), suavity (treat customers with a smile) and high quality. Uniforms for both airlines showcase traditional Korean colours and the uniform supports a dignified and polished brand image, making a difference in the customer’s mind.

Singapore Airlines was one of the first to promote its brand using Asian hospitality, a unique Asian appearance with a local uniform and top service. The airline has reached an unprecedented, positive and unique brand image through that long-term brand-building approach. Latecomer brands in the Middle East also stress service quality.

Back in Australia, Qantas rival Virgin Australia also positions its upgraded brand on service quality, implying it has now reached service levels provided by Qantas.

East Asian and Middle Eastern carriers have gained market share in Australia with their premium service at the expense of Qantas. A drastic change in brand management at Qantas is necessary to make employees proud to work for Qantas once again and in turn make customers happy to fly Qantas.

Qantas should learn from the past to develop more effective campaigns and also benchmark itself more clearly with strong competitors. A positioning strategy around “Aussieness” would likely create a point of difference since Asian and Middle Eastern carriers would be unable to copy it.

With a unique Australian brand positioning, Australian brand appearance/uniform and Aussie-type service quality, the Qantas brand could be revitalised so that staff and customers call Qantas home again by default.

The researchers are founding members of the Global Aviation Research Network (GARN) at Macquarie University, Sydney.