Ryanair - Is Michael O'Leary doing a Ratner, the slow way?

Firstly, I have never traveled Ryanair, or caused young Weasels to do so, on their dozens of flights to see me. Once upon a time, you could more or less rely upon Easyjet to get you there on time - I am talking about three or four years ago, but not anymore. Easyjet flights to and from Edinburgh seem to be late leaving and late arriving. Has this something to do with the departure of the face of the Brand, Stelios Howsyarfather in whose mouth moussaka would not melt? Easyjet will suffer in the long term, whether or not it sues its rival, Ryanair for taking the piss out of it. (Easyjet really is less reliable than Air Zimbabwe.)

And this brings me to Michael O'Leary, the CEO of Ryanair. Is he the man you love to hate, or just drop the love?

Michael O'Leary has a unique line in publicity. He regularly comes up with outrageous public announcements that gobble up column inches and elbow rivals off the front pages. Recent announcements have included; charging £1 to use the loo, getting rid of seats and making passengers stand to save space, and getting rid of the second pilot and training a stewardess to fly in an emergency. I rather liked my own invention, which was that Ryanair were going to get you to pre-book lifejackets and oxygen masks at a discount in the event of an aircraft ditch in the sea or other emergency, or make them available at a premium price just before the crash.

All these are quite believable, none are remotely true. O'Leary does it for publicity. The question is, does this work?

Yes. There is a massive amount of brand awareness being generated. According to an article over at Econsultancy, by Kevin Gibbons,

there are an incredible 20,400,000 global monthly searches for Ryanair. Compare that to Virgin Atlantic’s mere 1,500,000 and you can instantly see that there’s a huge amount of brand awareness being generated.

Of course, some of this is negative. Sites like http://www.ihateryanair.org/ and many others, contribute to this. Many of the negative comments reveal disgruntled punters who simply never read the Terms and Conditions of carriage. The fact is, of course, that Ryanair is successful. Bloody successful. http://www.avoidryanairfees.co.uk/ declared:

Budget airline Ryanair annouced on Wednesday, that it carried 7.61m passengers in July 2010. Is is a significant increase from July 2009, when the airline served 6.73m passengers. That means that despite a credit crunch, rouge Icelandic volcano and a general slowdown in the airline industry, Ryanair managed to increase its traffic by 13%. In the last 12 rolling months ending on 31 July 2010, Ryanair carried a total of 70.1m passengers.

Not only that, the company has an optimistic forecast on the stock markets.

And so, what can go possibly wrong? Michael O'Leary can go wrong? Kevin Gibbons is pessimistic:

So the airline is actively pursuing negative publicity with spurious stories. Clearly it hopes that the brand you love to hate will be the first brand you think of when you want to fly.
Will it work?
At the moment, the airline must be seeing success from this weird anti-promotion, or you assume it would change tactics.
However, there’s a huge amount of debate over whether this will cause the brand to crash and burn in the long run, or if it will continue to work.
We marketers will be watching with interest but, personally, I wouldn’t recommend trying this kind of approach with your own brand. While it may be working wonders for Ryanair, I can’t help but think it would kill off most brands within 12 months.

Gerald Ratner, famously killed of a multi-million pound high street jewellery chain with a single, flippant remark. I tend to agree with Gibbons. O'Leary is heading for a catastrophic decompression.


Jim said...

I think the majority of Ryanair passengers aren't really interested in all the sophisticated marketing that goes on but just see Ryanair constantly in the news and so become more and more 'brand aware'.
Overall I think Easyjey and Ryanair have been brilliant for the market. It's not that long ago that British Airways etc charged £200 for a trip to Paris and there was no alternative. This was when £200 was worth something.

Fascist Hippy said...

O'Leary is the grand master of spin, as I commented a while back on Gotty's blog, he is so good at this it is a wonder he isn't in politics.
He knows exactly what he is doing and has the luck of the Irish with him. I'd go for a pint with him or work for him, should it suit me to.