Ryanair has recently been voted Britain's worst family brand. Yet more people fly with them than any other airline in the world.
Ryanair represents the rise of the rational consumer. The rational consumer is much less open to manipulation by branding than previous generations of consumers.
What do people really want from an airline? "Affordable, safe air transport from A to B," Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair, recently told the Wall Street Journal. "It's a commodity. It's not some life-changing sexual experience, which is what the other high-fare airlines have tried to convince you that it is."
In the past, branding has been very good at getting us to believe that taking a flight from Dublin to London is a spiritual, emotional experience. We are irrational at heart and very willing to believe such rubbish, and that allows companies to charge ridiculous prices for their products and services. It's emotional exploitation and traditional consumers fall for it big time.
The rational consumer thinks that flying is like riding a bus. They are not shocked when they are forced to pay extra if they bring more bags. They are not disgusted if they have to pay to use the toilet on the plane. They are not outraged by the idea that buying the cheapest ticket means they might have to stand. They are rational. They weigh the cost against the benefit and make a rational decision, not an emotional one.
The emotional customer is outraged, shocked and disgusted by the very idea that you would have to pay to use the toilet on the plane. Because we all know that access to toilets is guaranteed by the UN convention of human rights. We all know that aircraft manufacturers don't charge for the toilets on their planes and that toilet paper manufacturers are non-profit charities.
Ryanair charges you 100 Euros for the flight and one euro to use the toilet, while another airline charges you 150 Euros, but you can use the toilet as much as you want. The rational consumer chooses Ryanair.
The Web has been a major reason why Ryanair has grown from being a tiny regional airline to being the world's largest carrier. The Web is a rational place. Many of the Web's greatest success stories (Google, Amazon, Progressive) are built on rational propositions of value and usefulness, rather than branding propositions that emotionally manipulation the irrational consumer.
Because it sells cheap flights, Ryanair has allowed families to have more vacations. It has helped families get together more often. But because humans are deeply irrational and emotional, Ryanair has a terrible brand image.
Are you happy when, unannounced, a company you buy things from sends you a free gift? You shouldn't be. What it in all likelihood means is that the company is price- gauging you.
The Web reflects a new era in consumer behavior. The rational consumer does more research, more comparison shopping. They are less impulsive and more considered. They place more trust in their peers than in the brands. They are increasingly skeptical and cynical. They are increasingly averse to warm, fuzzy, emotional words and images.
When you say things on your website like "we care" or "it's simple", the rational consumer thinks: "If you have to say you care, it's obvious you don't, and if you have to say it's simple, it's obvious it's not."