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July 9, 2013

There’s Honest, and Then There’s Really Honest

There’s Honest, and Then There’s Really Honest

We have nothing against honesty in branding – give us honesty and humor, and we’re all over it. We have the feeling a significant chunk of the public feels the same way, which is why when an ad student submitted the following Ryanair campaign to CLIO Award adjudicators: “With prices this cheap, shut the f*** up,” he friggin’ won.

Now, we are probably legally bound to disclose the fact that Ryanair doesn’t necessarily endorse this slogan, nor has the company even publically acknowledged its existence. However, the slogan is loosely based on a joke about Ryanair customer service, so it seems that Ryanair executives can choose to either slap a big smiley face on all of their employees, or shrug, embrace their bristly image and tell their customer base to “Shut the f*** up.” At least they’ll be consistent.

In all fairness to Ryanair, it did rank extremely highly in customer service in terms of baggage complaints, take off times and shortest wait time for telephone service. Nevertheless, interpersonal relationships are another matter, and Internet communities scream with tales of slights and wrongs. Who knows, maybe Ryanair employees only insulted 20 passengers in its entire 30 years of existence, but if they all had blogs …

Self Knowledge

For those of you unfamiliar with European budget airlines, Ryanair is the largest low-cost carrier in Europe, and it has a reputation for no-frills travel. This means that the seats don’t recline, there are no storage pockets on the back of the seats and safety vests are stored above the passengers, rather than below. Fascinatingly, the Ryanair braintrust proposed further cost-cutting measures, including charging passengers to use the bathroom, allowing standing passengers, requiring passengers to carry their own checked luggage to the aircraft and enacting a surcharge for customers who do not wish to have a flight attendant spit in their faces.

Naturally, we’re kidding about that last initiative. But it is nonetheless true that Ryanair is a point A to point B airline, which means that it does not care about luxuries or even basic comfort. It shoves passengers on the plane, flies to their destination and shoves them off. Mission accomplished.

All this being said, what else could their slogan be, if they’re being honest with themselves and the public? Even though the phrase is undoubtedly crude and offensive to some, the tried and true service offered by Ryanair isn’t for the faint of heart, and that’s something that shouldn’t be kept secret. What would be worse: a somewhat nasty but honest slogan, or a heartwarming slogan that leaves the customer in the dark about what to expect? Woe betide the person unfamiliar with Ryanair culture.

Honest, or Honest with a Capitol “H?”

Most of the time, we’re not looking for brutal honesty, but we do want to know what a company and, by extension, a product or service is all about. If a customer is looking for frugality, then that customer will likely yield to the reality of the absence of baubles, massages and champagne flutes. When a company addresses its bare-bones concept early, it will attract the sort of customer that the company can best serve. A brazen, juvenile slogan will certainly appeal to a brazen, juvenile public, and seriously, who else would use an airline that uses cost-cutting measures so draconian that it doesn’t even allow the passengers to recline in their seats? College backpackers, come one, come all!

Before this completely turns into an article about how an abusive company can continue to be abusive long into the future if they spin their services in the right way, let us say that, in a broad sense, weird corporate cultures can use their weirdness to their advantage if they share it with the public in an honest and self-aware manner. Of course, if their employees continue to spit in customers’ faces, no amount of out-of-the-box branding will save them.

So, what was the joke about Ryanair? Well, here goes:

A man sitting in an airport bar notices a beautiful woman sitting two seats away. Since she’s wearing what appears to be a standard flight attendant’s uniform, he guesses she must work for one of the carriers, but he can’t tell which one. Trying to strike up a conversation with her, he delivers the Southwest slogan, hoping she’ll respond. “You are now free to move about the country,” he says. The woman just looks at him quizzically. He tries the British Airway slogan: “The way to fly.” Still, nothing. He tries the American Airlines slogan: “Something special in the air,” he says. Finally, the woman wheels around and snaps, “What the f*** do you want??” “Oh,” he says. “You work for Spirit Airlines!”

Thank you! We’re here all week.

author

by Kevin Smith

Managing partner at SmashBrand. We’re a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.


Purposefully selective, we work with brands that want to stand out and also stand for something.


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