Qantas loves hating its customers

It’s almost like Qantas wants us all to hate them. It’s the only possible explanation I can come up with for an airline that has ceased to care about its customers and turned into a business run with the mentality of a bank (MOAR PROFITS! SACK MANY PEOPLE!) combined with the management mentality of a television network (VIEWAHS? WHAT ARE THEY? WE ONLY KNOW ABOUT ADVERTISAHS!)

I’ll not rake over the epic stupidity of grounding the entire airline ‘for its own good’ nor its going to war with the people that have the power in their hands to make Qantas great again – the staff. Nor will I recount the huge disaster that was #qantasluxury, one of the greatest things ever to happen on Twitter. I can’t recall having more fun in an afternoon while at the same time feeling so sorry for the members of the social media team who inevitably opposed the idea on the grounds it was colossally stupid.

Qantas took steps over the past week to have the @QantasPR account wiped from our Twitter feeds. As Leslie Nassar pointed out (a man not unaware of the perils of running a fake account), Qantas have used reasoning that basically implies that Qantas customers are incredibly stupid. Obviously, we are. Because the occasionally very funny account,  adopting the mumsy and officious tone of the terrible @qantasairways, absolutely nailed them and was apparently so good that we will believe what they were saying. Yeah, right.

I have a couple of theories but first up, let me be clear as to how the account broke what I would term ethical or unwritten rules for a parody account – the username should really have the word ‘fake’ or ‘not’ or something to indicate that it isn’t real. I don’t think it’s enough to put it in the bio, I don’t think it’s enough for the bio not to explicitly state that it’s parody. They also used a Qantas trademark without obvious modification meaning they left themselves open to a successful legal challenge. While I agree with many commentators that satire shouldn’t have to point out that it’s satire, but Twitter, like the world, has plenty of idiots to keep the lawyers going.

What they were doing right was that the person behind the account hasn’t done it out of blind hatred but instead wants to have a bit of fun and wants the airline to be better.

Anyway. Theories.

While this may be a long bow to draw, I have a deep and abiding belief that Australian PR companies and PR people have almost no sense of humour. For many years I wrote video game reviews for a moderately successful gaming website. When we were unable to find a redeeming feature of a game we would say so. Then we battened down the hatches. You cannot, in this country, have any fun at the expense of ‘the brand.’ This then breeds an attitude within that brand’s PR machine that they are untouchable because they have successfully shut down any sort of fun-poking so they then go to market with things like #qantasluxury and the Woolworths Facebook debacle of finishing a sentence. I think part of the problem is that these companies are so keen to keep their often gigantic and/or multinational accounts happy, they develop an incredibly sensitive attitude to those brands.

I once told someone that Top Gear Australia wouldn’t work because of that same reason. There are plenty of rumours to suggest that I was right because a number of car makers were very unhappy at the damage meted out to their cars. Clearly Top Gear in the UK doesn’t have as many issues because plenty of quite new cars are damaged and there seems little in the way of backlash. TGA were (allegedly) threatened with a few manufacturers pulling out. I clearly remember a BMW 135i, a car brutally kicked sideways on Top Gear UK being taken for a very leisurely amble through the forest by the Australian presenter Steve Pizzatti. Ahem.

The other theory is that Qantas takes itself very seriously. While I am all for an airline taking the business of keeping aircraft in the air with utmost safety, I don’t think Qantas quite understands that the public face doesn’t have to be so, well, authoritarian. I flew Qantas regularly for years and whenever a flight was late or cancelled, the officious desk jockey would say, without fail, ‘We don’t fly unsafe aircraft.’ End of discussion. Qantas wants us to take them as seriously as they take themselves and when we don’t, we must be punished.

Twitter reminds me of a year 9 boys school classroom. Testosterone abounds and pack mentality rules. The over-confident maths teacher who says, without warning, halfway through a class, ‘hands up who likes me’ (yes, this happened and no, I did not put my hand up) is the real life equivalent of #qantasluxury. Those who didn’t put their hand up got booted out into the hallway and called arrogant. This is what happened to @qantasPR because they cut too close to the bone – they mimicked the feel and the tone of the real and outrageously poorly executed Qantas twitter accounts and got people talking about the brand for all the wrong reasons (as determined by Qantas and their ambulance chasing lawyers).

What it comes down to is that Qantas don’t like dissent from its customers, its prospective customers or its own staff. Qantas hates anyone who disagrees with the agenda of the board, the CEO and institutional investors. It isn’t enough that we don’t fall for Joyce’s patronising sky-is-falling routine or planting of stories in the Murdoch press praising his ludicrous style, we now have to view the airline the way they want us to without actually putting in the hard yards to do something likeable. Not falling out of the sky anymore doesn’t cut it – Virgin do a good of that and make less of a fuss doing it. The difference is, they don’t treat everyone like dirt.