Ad expert “very surprised” by Emirates’ response to Business Class complaint

Old Television on white. Includes Clipping Path.

Emirates’ battle with a New Zealand customer should never have got as far as it did, according to an expert in how advertising can influence behaviour.

Dr Tom van Laer, an Associate Professor of Narratology at the University of Sydney teaches persuasive principles of advertising.

He said he was “very surprised” the airline let a complaint continue to go unresolved to the point where it became a news story.

Earlier this week, a man from Tauranga in New Zealand was awarded A$12,654 by the country’s disputes tribunal, succeeding in his case against Emirates.

Mark Morgan challenged the airline over the standard of its business class features, claiming the product on his flight to London did not match those used in advertising by Emirates.

Emirates said this was due to an operational matter meaning older aircraft were being used on its flights to New Zealand.

Disputes Tribunal referee Laura Mueller disagreed and made a ruling against the airline.

“The cost of settling this complaint compared to the cost of the damage to its reputation is tiny,” van Laer told Travel Weekly.

“This is about reputational damage. The only way Emirates can repair the way its brand is perceived, is to tell their side of the story, or front up and own the mistake.”

Emirates advertisements in New Zealand show newer Business Class cabins available on the airline’s Airbus A380 aircraft, however older Boeing 777s are being used to fly to the country.

Emirates also said in its defence that it operates flights to Auckland “at a loss.”

You can read more about the complaint here.

Dr van Laer says while it’s not uncommon for an advertised product to be quite different from its reality, brands usually deal with the inconsistencies using much smaller messaging.

“Think of food commercials for example, this would usually be covered in the fine print. In this case, the airline said the mistake was operational.”

In this case it could be said the A380 product is the burger on the left, the 777 Business Class product on the right.

Van Laer says he doesn’t expect airline marketing creatives to be throwing out the rulebook following the decision, instead there may be a few more asterix’s appearing in the future.

“I would imagine brands, especially airlines, will be looking at what terms and conditions they include in their communications and advertising,” he said.

“If there is one thing complaining consumers do not want to hear, it is a dry list of facts. People who vent their emotions on the Internet want those emotions to be accepted. They want emotional relief. It works best to allow for that emotion.”

“Companies should always begin with an apology and tell the story from their perspective.

“Whether a company is at fault or not, you can always apologise for what the customer is going through. It works better when this story is told by someone from the shop floor, instead of the company’s spokesperson.”

“People find a response from a spokesperson cheap,” he said.

“A spokesperson is trained to present statements and arguments, whereas a frontline employee—the real service employee—is just a man of common day who is in direct contact with the customers. If you let that employee present his story from his perspective, he will put a human face on the story.”

When asked for comment, Emirates said it “hasn’t any further information to add to this story.”

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