Ryanair’s attempt to mock British Airways online backfires

After a BA flight to Dusseldorf mistakenly landed in Scotland, Ryanair decided to taunt its competitor online. Instead, users reminded the budget airline of its own imperfect record.

Scoring points on social media only works if you have the reputation to back it up.

Budget airline Ryanair’s attempt to mock British Airlines backfired as customers pointed out Ryanair’s own history of air travel mishaps. The incident is a reminder that being snarky on social media is a risky move and requires a dedicated strategy and a secure relationship with consumers to execute effectively.

For Ryanair, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up when a British Airways flight to Dusseldorf, Germany accidently landed in Scotland. The mistake made headlines as many wondered how an airplane could be so mistaken about its final destination.

Business Insider wrote:

Passengers on a British Airways flight on Monday from London to Düsseldorf, Germany, were shocked when an announcement welcomed them instead to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.

British Airways apologized to the customers who accidentally ended up 525 miles from their destination. The German firm WDL Aviation, which was running the British Airways-branded flight, told Business Insider that it is still investigating what went wrong.

The story went viral, partly because of how unusual it seemed. But a flight accidentally landing in the wrong airport, country, or even continent, is more common than you might think.

An Associated Press analysis of flight records found that at least 150 flights by US carriers alone landed or started to land in the wrong place between the early 1990s and 2014. The review did not cover diversions because of emergencies, such as faults with the plane or medical incidents on board.

According to British Airways, the mistake was caused by faulty paperwork.

Business Insider wrote:

British Airways said in a statement to the Business Insider that the plane ended up in Edinburgh after the flight paperwork was submitted incorrectly.

Passengers realized they were in the wrong country only after an announcement was made welcoming them to Edinburgh after the plane landed, the BBC reported.

After the mistake made headlines, Ryanair saw its opportunity.

However, the tweet backfired as customers quickly turned to the budget airline’s own history.

The BBC reported:

Ryanair trolled BA in a tweet that afternoon with the suggested reading material. BA replied to the tweet saying: “No-one is perfect”.

But Twitter users quickly came back with book suggestions lampooning the low-cost airline, including “Employment Law for Dummies”.

In 2018 Ryanair was forced to cancel hundreds of flights after strike action by pilots and staff who were complaining about conditions.

The strikes caused disruption for tens of thousands of passengers.

The Sun reported:

Twitter users referenced a Ryanair flight that landed in Romania rather than Greece earlier this year, which was actually due to bad weather.

But the airline has made a similar error in the past—in 2006, the airline landed at a military base instead of Derry airport by mistake.

Another social media user said: “Your one to talk (sic).”

One person tweeted: “Maybe keep the book.”

Soon Twitter became a feeding frenzy as users rushed to dump on the airline:

Some Twitter users argued that Ryanair had made far worse mistakes in the past:

Others simply scratched their heads over what Ryanair could have been thinking when it decided to tweet:

For its part, British Airways kept a stiff upper lip in its response:

Both airlines declined to comment on stories about the Twitter fracas, but the online tiff allowed reporters to probe both airlines in print.

The BBC reported:

In January Ryanair was named the UK’s least-liked short-haul airline for the sixth year running after a survey by consumer group Which?.

Passengers were not impressed by industrial action, boarding processes, seat comfort, food and drink, and cabin environment, the consumer group said.

At the time, Ryanair said passenger numbers had grown 80% in the previous six years, and that reflected what people want “much more than an unrepresentative survey of just 8,000 people.”

Here are three lessons from Ryanair’s ill-conceived attempt at online trolling:

1. Worry about your own reputation first.

Mocking your rival online might sound like fun and feel exciting in the moment, but your own reputation should come first. If you haven’t established a secure and stable relationship with consumers—for example, if you have had to issue your own crisis response in recent years—then perhaps an adversarial online strategy is a poor choice.

In Ryanair’s case, the joke wasn’t able to overcome the brand’s history of poor customer service. Consumers remembered.

2. Ensure your message is intrinsic to your brand.

A Twitter joke should be more than just a putdown of your competitor. How is your brand different? What crucial message are you hoping consumers will hear?

A good example of this strategy comes from Wendy’s, which regularly taunts its competitor McDonald’s on Twitter for freezing its burgers:

This approach works for Wendy’s because the company is trying to establish a difference between itself and McDonald’s: Its competitor freezes its beef patties, but Wendy’s cooks them fresh.

In Ryanair’s case, the airline was just trying to troll another airline and maybe grab headlines with a bit of newsjacking. Because the message wasn’t tied to a strategic objective, it left the airline open to ridicule.

3. Be prepared for a backlash.

When your organization decides to go on the offensive on social media, know that it will require constant updates and new posts. Being snarky online, especially on a platform as mercurial as Twitter, requires ceaseless effort, quick responses to critics and new material.

If you aren’t prepared to be relentless, it’s safer to let a few jokes go by. Better to be unfunny and unremarkable than vilified.

What do you think of Ryanair’s attempt to mock British Airlines, PR Daily readers?

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2 Responses to “Ryanair’s attempt to mock British Airways online backfires”

    Jacob Greenwood says:

    Ryanair is what it is, nobody flies with them because of its customer service, or humour. It flies in-demand routes for the cheapest fares and to get those, passengers have to grit their teeth and get on with it. Although it may look like a ‘fail’, it got its name out there and I’ve seen Ryanair mentioned a lot more than most airlines in the past week because of it. I think they’ll be pretty satisfied.

      Ted Kitterman says:

      It only is a success if it drives sales. They don’t need to get their name out there; they don’t need an awareness campaign. They failed to demonstrate why they are a better choice than the competition and the slight was sloppy. They might be satisfied, but I argue they could have done better.

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