Ryanair vs the world

Pic by Jayfresh.

Ryanair’s miserable, humiliating customer service (this grizzled 45 year-old seasoned traveller was reduced to tears by a nasty piece of work representing Ryanair at Cork Airport a few weeks ago) isn’t the problem. Offering O’Leary and his staff advice on how to improve it or how to respond better to bloggers and Twitterers is pointless. The crappy service is Ryanair’s USP (on Twitter the other day someone called it the airline’s Purple Cow).

Passengers make a conscious trade-off – deliberately swapping a pleasant journey for a cheaper flight – and, most of the time, it works (I’ve done it many times myself and only cried once). The trashy in-flight experience and the cheesy web site are deliberate and quite sophisticated marketing – they’re supposed to be like that. “Anything this crappy must be the cheapest” you think as you tuck into your prawn sandwich (itself a clever quotation from the retail geniuses at M&S in the eighties). If Ryanair started adding freebies or courtesies we’d get suspicious.

Ryanair has prospered in explicit defiance of emerging customer service norms. While the rest of the world has been investing in better customer service and more elaborate experiences – concierges at the bank, car hire firms who bring the car round to your house – Ryanair has cleaned up by going where no one else has the stomach to. Ryanair’s race to the bottom has been driven by O’Leary’s remarkable bargain basement imagination, something no one has been able to copy. I say this with some admiration. He just goes further: Cup-a-Soup, scratchcards, checking luggage, paying to use the toilet. And who’s to say, in the current climate, that he’s not right?

So the question is not when will Ryanair fall into line with the rest of the customer service world (never going to happen) but how long will it be before they’re catastrophically caught out? How many of these highly entertaining but essentially trivial social media storms can they weather before one of them actually does some damage. The increasingly belligerent and self-confident blogosphere has evidently met its match in Michael O’Leary and his uniquely low-rent operation but I can’t help thinking the stand-off can’t last forever. You can take on a few hundred bloggers but as your customers move online and become active users of social media (“idiot bloggers”), can you take on everyone?

Pic by Jayfresh. Thanks!

Is this what they call an ‘experience brand’?

Brands can be complicated things. This one may be a business but it’s also a national sporting figurehead wired tightly into the Italian psyche, a rich man’s plaything that most of its fanatical fans could never afford to own and the most erotically charged engineering in history.

“In the agony, it seems, was the ecstasy. Ferrari’s appeal turned out to be something subtler than a simple thirst for victory. The suffering was the story. Once the Ferrari team turned into a steamroller, the passion lost its intensity.”

(this Guardian article was written before Schumacher won the San Marino Grand Prix and permitted Italians to breathe again).

Innovation in weird snacks

The ingenuity of British manufacturing industry continues to impress, even if its timing doesn’t. The FT reports on an upmarket extension to the defiantly trashy Pot Noodle range from Unilever – and I mean upmarket. We’re talking Wild Scottish Salmon, Kobe Beef, Caspian Caviar and Tuscan truffles. Apart from being a bit weird, this is textbook product innovation and a real sign of vitality in the sector but would you launch a new convenience food in the middle of a war? (The Confectionery Early Warning boys over at Snackspot have already issued their verdict, naturally).

Update: of course, I clocked this one as an April fool, no problem. Honest. To be really honest, I’d read the FT front to back and satisfied myself that there were no April Fool jokes in it. I think I’d convinced myself it must be something to do with the war…

Shelter brands?

Leica offers hope for stick-in-the-mud analogue brands. The gorgeous MP rangefinder camera is packaged explicitly as a device for digital refuseniks – ‘100% mechanical’ boasts the brochure. Jean-Jacques Viau, marketing manager for the MP says in the FT (I think you’ll need a subscription or a free trial) “We could be the shelter for people who react to the changes of model every six months.”

I know that I treasure the mechanical charms of my old Nikon as a tactile, ‘clunk, whirr’ contrast to all the digital gadgets in my life. I wonder if there’s any mileage in hybrid products for people who want digital flexibility and control as well as the older pleasures of hand-made, mechanical instruments? Why can’t I snap a digital prism onto my Nikon, for instance?

Sarcastic link title of the month award

Via demented (in a nice way) Snackpot and branding newsletter LucJam I learn from Food Navigator that targeting kids is getting more difficult. The article is interesting (lifestage vs. demographic segmentation and so on) but LucJam’s link is much more entertaining than anything in the target article: ‘Generation Y not sure what they want to eat’.