There's an interesting article in the current Marketing Week by Mark Ritson about Ryanair. Ritson remarks on Ryanair's latest ad-related controversy, in which Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary was forced to apologize to EasyJet founder Stelios for depicting him as a long-nosed Pinocchio who misleads customers about the punctuality of flights.
Ritson suggests that, despite the crudity of his tactics, O'Leary is in fact an extremely smart marketer who has set about building a successful business and differentiated brand through a clever and effective strategy.
"It starts with advertising. A very special kind of advertising. Usually black and white. Consistently tacky in tone and execution. And always offensive.
"What follows is inevitably a public backlash or formal complaint. At this point, Ryanair kicks in with its PR campaign. O’Leary himself usually goes onto the front foot and makes even more incendiary claims: Ryanair will make people pay for toilets; there will be tickets for standing room only on flights; fat people will have to pay more; and everyone flying business class will get free sexual favours. All of it is nonsense, of course. Few of the claims that Ryanair has made over the years are ever likely to come to pass. But that’s not the point. A £25,000 ad campaign has suddenly become a million-pound piece of brand strategy."
The same thought has occurred to me. We're unlikely to see a Ryanair case history being entered for the IPA Effectiveness Awards but it does seem to be an effective campaign. I have to admit that though I don't personally like or admire what Ryanair is doing here, I do acknowledge that they are clearly differentiating themselves in a highly competitive market. In a world where most markets will tell you that their desired brand values are 'friendly, passionate, professional, customer-centric', etc, it's almost refreshing to find one that defines itself by the values 'cheap, rude, aggressive, vulgar and unrepentant'. Looking at Ryanair's ads, they are deliberately tacky and provocative yes but, more than that, they're shoddily put together, badly designed and full of grammatical errors. This(consciously?)slapdash approach reinforces the brand's image as cheap and unsophisticated. Not only is what they say vulgar, the way they say it is slovenly. In a way Ryanair is the Viz Comic of airlines. O'Leary seems to relish his role as the anti-Branson, a man who openly disrespects and apparently dislikes not just his competitors but also his customers. I think I read somewhere that his mission is to get people to realise that air travel is not glamorous - it's just a bus with wings. Having flown Ryanair a few times, I can confirm that the experience fully delivers on this promise.