Can a name change save Boeing’s 737 MAX?

After months of crisis following the tragic crashes of two airplanes—potentially due to manufacturer malfeasance—some in the airline industry hope to revive its reputation.

The aircraft is still grounded worldwide as the manufacturer tries to solve a software issue.

Meanwhile, passengers have vowed never to set foot on another 737 Max. Pilots say their trust has been violated. A bevy of apologies have gone over like a ton of bricks with consumers.

So, why would airlines think a name change could smooth over all the issues with the troubled 737 aircraft?

The move has received scrutiny as news outlets have reported the potential rebranding in real time.

The Guardian reported:

A Boeing 737 Max due to be delivered to Ryanair has had the name Max dropped from the livery, further fuelling speculation that the manufacturer and airlines will seek to rebrand the troubled plane.

Photos have emerged of a 737 Max in Ryanair colours outside Boeing’s manufacturing hub, with the designation 737-8200 – instead of 737 Max – on the nose. The 737-8200 is a type name for the aircraft that is used by aviation agencies.

The name change could be an attempt to sidestep the backlash that has surrounded the 737 Max ever since reports revealed that undisclosed software changes might have led to fatal air accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

However, that change might not be up to Boeing. The Guardian continued:

Neither Ryanair nor Boeing has commented on nor confirmed the substitution of the 737-8200 for the better known brand Max, as seen on the photographs taken at Renton in Washington, US, and posted on social media by Woodys Aeroimages. In previous photos from the same source, new Ryanair 737 Max 200 planes from Boeing are shown with 737 Max on its nose.

It is understood that what is painted on the plane is a matter for the airline rather than the manufacturer. According to sources reported in the Wall Street Journal, the Max plane is unlikely to return to the skies before 2020.

The situation is tricky for Ryanair, which flies a fleet comprising only Boeing aircraft.

Business Insider wrote:

Michael O’Leary, the CEO of the Irish airline, has continued to express confidence in Boeing, though, like many other airlines, it is seeking compensation as the jets remain grounded around the world and further plane deliveries stall.

O’Leary told Reuters last week that the plane needed to return by the end of November at the latest “so as not to disrupt our growth for the summer of 2020,” but there is no set time for the jet’s return.

Boeing has said it is open to a name change but is worried that customers would see the move as a PR stunt.

On social media, the notion was met with skepticism.

Others were more vehement in their disapproval:

Some demanded a response to the claims:

However, the move also highlights a reality for Boeing: Customers are unwilling to fly on the 737 Max, and for such a popular airplane model, that is a devastating blow for the company. One can understand the internal desire to just change the name and start over, but Boeing will have to dig much deeper to solve its reputational issues.

Here are some important takeaways for crisis communicators from Boeing And Ryanair’s misstep:

1. Never try to hide your flaws.

If you are trying to win back your audience’s trust, lying or obfuscating the truth is a terrible place to start.

Renaming an unpopular product will always be seen as a cynical ploy to dupe customers. Instead, your organization will have to come up with something new. Boeing might want to consider ditching the 737 Max entirely and developing a new airplane.

2. Respect the power of social media.

Ryanair was scooped by a photographer who shares pictures of airfields and airplanes online—and Twitter did the rest.

Remember that everything is immediate and permanent in a digital media environment. Everyone will find out what you did, and whatever message you share won’t disappear from the internet in a hurry. Even if you delete your social media posts, users can grab screenshots of your words and hold them against you for years to come.

3. Don’t expect a name change to make a difference.

Names are powerful things. They are how a company introduces itself and its products to consumers. They represent its work, its values and its dreams for the future.

However, a name cannot make up for what is lacking in an organization.

A coal company can’t dodge environmental complaints by changing its name to Blue Sky. The name, instead, should be derived from the organization.

If you want to say that you offer more than just doughnuts, then by all means—change your name to just Dunkin’.  If you want to show that your company has healthy options, instead of just sugary juices—drop the juice from your name.

But don’t think you can just rename a plan and make it safe. Your customers are smarter than that—and they won’t appreciate it.

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