Malaysia Airlines brand still strong among locals despite recent challenges

Malaysia Airlines (MAB) has come under the spotlight recently after multiple media outlets including Channel NewsAsia and the New Straits Times reported that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had touched on the possibility of MAB being sold off, shut down or refinanced. Finance minister Lim Guan Eng has since clarified that the airline will not be shut down.

While the airline has faced several challenges over the past five years, from the disappearance of flight MH370 and the resignation of former CEO Christoph Mueller, to claims by a travel blogger of in-flight bullying, MAB's brand health still remains high among Malaysians at +40.0 out of 100.

According to YouGov Plan & Track, which tracked how consumers in Malaysia and neighbouring countries view the airline, the same cannot be said among Southeast Asian neighbours. While Indonesians’ perceptions of the brand are still in positive territory (+4.2), Singaporeans take a more negative view, with the brand’s Index score currently at -13.7.

Meanwhile, the airline's recent scandals have seen its brand Buzz scores fall among Malaysian consumers, despite them holding the airline in high regard. Its Buzz score slipped from +30.5 to +26.5 in less than a week after the brand was wrongfully accused of publishing an image of a pork dish in its inflight magazine on 20 January. Last year November, MAB's Buzz score fell from +37.4 to +28.4 after debris purportedly from missing plane MH370 came to light.

Even with the brand’s announcement on 12 February about the launch of a sub-brand, "Amal", to provide Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage flights to Saudi Arabia, the carrier’s Buzz score continued to slip among Malaysian consumers.

Despite this, MAB still maintains a loyal consumer base. YouGov Profiles data said that MAB's current customers are most likely to be married men aged 30 to 44, who work full time and earn more than RM10,000 a month. By comparison, its former customers are more likely to be young, single, women (aged 16 to 29).

Ervin Ha, YouGov APAC head of data products said that MAB is "an interesting case study" as few brands have experienced the range of challenges it has faced in such a short period of time.

"It appears encouraging though in spite of rough times some Malaysians remain loyal to the brand. However, our data shows the type of consumers who have shifted away from the carrier in recent times. To fully regain positive brand health, MAB needs to find ways to reconnect to these customers and win them back," Ha said.

The airline recently called off its global pitch covering creative, social and media for its marketing hub. The 4As confirmed to A+M that in the letter it had received, MAB said it was looking at the redevelopment of its overall business plan and strategy for the next three years and as such, has necessitated a re-think of its marketing strategy apart from other areas of the business. A+M understands that the contracts for all incumbents – M&C Saatchi, m/SIX and Reprise Digital – have been extended until June 2019.

(Read also: It’s time for mobile-only, not mobile-first, says Malaysia Airlines’ digital lead)