To brand or not to rebrand: that is the question for Malaysia Airlines

29 July 2014, Blog

According to news reports Malaysia Airlines are considering a rebrand following the two recent tragedies involving their aircraft. It is rare for any business to be exposed to a crisis of the magnitude of an airline disaster in their lifetimes, let alone two major incidents within a few months of each other. Now they will have to deal with the challenge of reassuring customers that it is safe to fly with Malaysia Airlines as reports suggest the company has lost 35 per cent of its value since the two incidents. But should that amount to such a radical move as changing its name?

If the rumours are true it an embarrassing leak as the remains of those that perished from flight MH17 are still to be identified. The airline is at a significant risk of insensitivity and damaging its already fragile reputation by discussing the pros and cons of an image makeover so soon after the incident. Malaysia Airlines is also not just an airline company, it’s a key part of the national identity of the country, reflected in the fact that its majority shareholder is the government. It would be akin to British Airways deciding to change its name. Finally whilst we don’t know, and may never know, about what happened to flight MH370, we do know that flight MH17 was shot down.

The fact is this was a barbaric act and the plane was in the wrong place at the wrong time despite some commentators questioning why the airline was flying in airspace where known conflict was occurring. Malaysia Airlines arguably would be better off sticking with its existing brand and restoring confidence in its safety. Prior to 2014 the airline had one of the best safety records in the aviation industry in its 68 year history. Now they have to show they have learnt from these two incidents.

They could do well to follow the example of Korean Air which suffered three crashes within six months in 1999, two of which were fatal. Instead of rebranding, the airline went about internal change including  retraining pilots and transforming its culture before it relaunched.

Whatever route Malaysia Airlines takes, it’s going to be another big call to make for the company’s communications team.

Author: Chris Lawrance, MD at JBP.

JBP Staff Member

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