> Qantas’ brand health plummets; Virgin Australia sees gains in consumer sentiment

Qantas’ brand health plummets; Virgin Australia sees gains in consumer sentiment

The famous saying that ‘all publicity is good publicity’ usually attributed to the 19th century circus owner, Phineas T. Barnum is based on the idea that it is always preferable to have attention focused on a name than to be unnoticed.

However, Australian’s flag carrier, Qantas, may not currently agree. A new study from research specialist YouGov shows that consumer sentiment towards the airline has soured sharply as news of its recent alleged misconduct spreads. What is more, its local rival, Virgin Australia, has witnessed gains in consumer sentiment amidst Qantas’ brand crisis.

It has been a challenging couple of months for Qantas that pushed its outgoing CEO Alan Joyce to step down in early Sep-2023, a couple of months ahead of schedule to enable the carrier to better chart a course through troubled waters.

His sudden departure came days after the airline faced legal action from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), for allegedly selling tickets for thousands of flights that had already been cancelled over a three-month period in 2022.

This itself followed a class-action lawsuit that accused Qantas of failing to refund passengers for flights cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic and illegally retaining billions of dollars of customer funds.

It wasn’t the end either. Just a week after the leadership change, the High Court of Australia unanimously ruled that Qantas broke industrial law by illegally firing 1,700 ground staff at 10 Australian airports in 2020, upholding an earlier federal court ruling which the airline had appealed against.

The impact of this period on the Qantas brand has now been highlighted in latest research from YouGov and clearly shows that consumer sentiment towards the airline has soured.

Latest data from YouGov BrandIndex shows that Qantas’ Buzz score (which measures whether consumers have heard more positive or negative things about a brand in the past two weeks) hovered around 10 points for most of Jul-2023, but dipped to 7.7 on 21Aug-2023 when it was served a class-action lawsuit for allegedly withholding refunds on cancelled flights, then dropped to 3.1 on 31-Aug-2023 when the ACCC started legal proceedings.

By the time Mr Joyce stepped down on 06-Sep-2023, Qantas’ Buzz score had entered negative territory at -1.9, according to the YouGov data, which meant more consumers heard something negative than positive about the brand over the past two weeks. It then plummeted to -7.2 by 14-Sep-2023, a day after Australia’s top court ruled that the carrier illegally fired 1,700 ground staff during the pandemic.

Consumer impression towards Qantas also took a similar nosedive. Between the class-action lawsuit on 21-Aug-2023 and Mr Joyce’s early exit on 06-Sep-2023, the airline’s Impression score lost 10 points – declining from 26.9 to 16.9 – before falling to 8.3 the day after the High Court ruling, on 14-Sep-2023.

Meanwhile, the flag carrier’s Index score (an overall measure of brand health calculated as an average of Impression, Quality, Value, Reputation, Satisfaction, Recommendation scores) more than halved over the same period: tumbling from 21.5 on 21-Aug-2023 to 10.2 by 14-Sep-2023.

Data from YouGov BrandIndex also reveals that Virgin Australia has emerged as the main beneficiary of Qantas’ ongoing crisis. Virgin Australia’s Index score, which was neck to neck with Qantas in early Aug-2023, has started on an upward trend since late Aug-2023 – as Qantas’ Index score moved in the opposite direction.

Between Qantas’s class-action lawsuit on 21-Aug-2023 and its change of CEO on 06-Sep-2023, Virgin Australia’s Index score rose from 25.1 to 27.6 points – before climbing to 28.8 by 14-Sep-2023, after Australia’s top court ruled Qantas has illegally fired ground staff during the pandemic.

During this period, Virgin Australia also launched a baggage tracking tool covering more than two-thirds of its domestic network in Australia, and a self-service flight rebooking tool for business passengers whose flights have been disrupted, highlights YouGov.

Qantas’ smaller rival Bonza Aviation also recorded slight gains in consumer sentiment over the same period. The low-cost carrier saw its Index score increase from 3.1 on 21-Aug-2023 to 4.7 by 14-Sep-2023, although this remains more than five points lower than Qantas.

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