Does Airasia's free flights for ASEAN Olympic medallists contradict its brand ethos?

Airasia is giving free flights for life to all ASEAN athletes who won a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In a statement to A+M, the low-cost airline said it will also give athletes from the 10-nation grouping who won silver and bronze medals free flights for five and two years respectively. Eligible athletes will be able to fly to any of the more than 120 destinations within Airasia and Airasia X's extensive network in Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Africa.

Airasia is Asia's largest low-cost carrier by passengers carried and jet fleet. It is also the only airline to fly direct to all 10 Asean countries, including some 60 unique routes in the region.

Airasia group CEO Tony Fernandes said, "I was blown away by the performances from ASEAN athletes, such as Thailand's Sukanya Srisurat and Sopita Tanasan, Indonesia's Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir, as well as Joseph Schooling and Hoang Xuan Vinh, who won Singapore and Vietnam's first ever Olympic gold medal."

Fernandes said with the move it wants to also be "the best by emulating the best", and these athletes have taught us we should never stop trying to be better".

Could it be just a marketing stunt?

While the move has won the hearts of many consumers, Nick Foley, president of Southeast Asia Pacific & Japan at Landor Associates said in the long run, it could hurt the image of the budget airline who's motto is that everyone can fly. He added that he didn't see the marketing stunt bringing real value to the Airasia brand in the long term.

"Giving free flights to some Olympians feels at odd with AirAsia's overarching ethos of 'Now Everyone Can Fly'," he said.

Every brand is trying to get on the Joseph Schooling and Olympics bandwagon. Unless you're a genuine sponsor, it will prove difficult to cut through all the noise.

Graham Hitchmough, chief executive officer of Southeast Asia at Brand Union agreed with Foley that Airasia's latest sponsorship to the athletes may be seen as solely a marketing stunt.

Honestly, it looks like yet another brand trying to ride on the coattails of hard-won regional sporting success, and between the lines of official sponsorship arrangements.

He added that Airasia might get a short-term blip in awareness, through which they can push other information and services, but it will be short-lived and non-strategic.

"At least you can say that there is some link between ASEAN athletes and a predominantly ASEAN budget carrier. But has AirAsia sought official approvals from the athletes themselves to have their profiles exploited in this way? Or if they are quite literally basking in their reflected golden glory," questioned Hitchmough.

Meanwhile, in Malaysia - Prime Minister Najib Razak announced yesterday at the Komplex Bunga Raya at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport that the government will reward its every athlete who won a medal at Rio Olympics 2016 an additional $200,000 ringgit. Both silver and bronze medallists will receive the money in addition to the prize money that the government had promised earlier.