Ryanair plunge suggests there is such a thing as bad publicity

Airline’s image nosedived after cancellation crisis, Core Media study confirms

Ryanair's brand image plunged last month following its flight cancellation crisis, according to a monthly brand image study by media agency Core Media.

Core, which is Ireland's largest buyer of advertising, said Ryanair recorded one of the biggest drops in brand "vitality" it has ever witnessed.

"For the first time ever, Ryanair's brand sentiment went negative," said Core Media strategic planner Thomas Geoghegan.

The Core Media research asks more than 1,000 consumers to rate their feelings about 117 brands each month on a scale of one to five, and then asks if they have seen or heard anything about each brand over the past month.


These sentiment and visibility measures are combined into a single measure of brand vitality, which lets the agency rank companies, compare them against their peers and monitor their performance over time.

“As Ryanair’s brand sentiment plunged to its lowest point ever, their visibility also jumped to 80 per cent, the highest ever. This tells us that Ryanair stood out in people’s minds more strongly than ever before, but for all the wrong reasons,” said Mr Geoghegan.

Ryanair, which publishes its half-year financial results on Tuesday, announced on September 15th that it would cancel an average of 50 flights a day for six weeks, affecting about 315,000 passengers. The number affected was later revised upwards to 400,000.

Aer Lingus capitalises

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary was forced to apologise for the cancellations, which related to rostering difficulties, but he later prompted outrage when he suggested at a press conference that pilots have an easy job.

Despite the cancellations, passenger traffic at Ryanair grew 10 per cent year-on-year in September to 11.8 million.

Core Media said that as Ryanair’s brand image descended in September, Aer Lingus’s score soared, as Irish consumers reverted to “the most trusted brand”.

Ryanair often eschews traditional advertising, relying more on “grabbing headlines” and direct channels such as email that promote its seat sales, the group noted.

“Recent events show us that this approach works well for Ryanair when things are going well, but the brand experiences severe turbulence when they aren’t.”

Mr Geoghegan said the crisis had effectively grounded the “always getting better” repositioning of the brand, which began in 2014 when Mr O’Leary decided the airline would adopt a “caring and cuddly” new message.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics