When a Thai Airways plane skidded off the runway after its landing gear failed this month, the airline moved quickly to cover up their logo on the damaged aircraft. This is standard practice in the airline industry and, as a Thai Airways spokesperson explained to The Guardian
, it is also required by the Star Alliance crisis communication guidelines.
Removing your corporate brand from a damaged aircraft (or car or cruise ship or any other malfunctioning, high-profile item) seems like a sensible thing to do. It will reduce the number of photos that tie your brand to an accident, and, for airlines, it probably reduces customer worries.
But painting over your logo with black paint is not the best way to go about it. Even after Thai Airways hastily applied the black paint, anyone familiar with the Thai livery could instantly recognize it from other colors. This is the irony of a good brand. When it is well done, people recognize your product from incidental fuselage and wing markings, body colors, the logo shape, or some other small design detail.
If you want to do it right, you must remove all brand elements. It is much better to cover everything with white paint, so that the aircraft just looks unpainted, not just partially covered up. Alitalia demonstrated this earlier this year when one of their ATRs skidded off the runway in a similar incident. Note how all the recognizable colors were removed, not just the logo:
This is already a big improvement, but too much haste in removing the logo always leads to negative coverage. Even when the brand is removed effectively, by doing it too quickly you give the impression that you’re hiding something. You encourage people to make before-and-after comparisons, which just make matters worse. Anyway, it doesn't matter how fast you paint because today everyone has a camera in their pocket. Someone will capture a photo before the paint crew arrives.
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A much better way to handle the problem is to remove the aircraft, and then make the branding disappear gradually. British Airways did this following the incident at Heathrow in 2008. A` 777 during landing undershot the runway after it lost thrust. BA moved the wreckage to another part of the airport, behind a high fence, and removed the tail with the BA logo to make it less visible. Later all the branding was removed, but at the same time the airframe was cut up. The scene looked like a normal disassembly process, not a cover-up.
While you refine your crisis communication plan, use another best practice: Follow your crisis communication guidelines without talking about them. Everyone should have a crisis communication plan, but you undermine the effectiveness of the plan if you share its content with media.
Andrew Hennigan is a consultant, speaker and writer on professional communication topics. He writes Andrew Hennigan's Communications Blog, where a version of this article originally ran.