MAS' rebranding in limbo: What happens when clients change their minds?

According to Malaysia's state investment firm Khazanah Nasional, the much awaited rebranding of Malaysia Airline might not actually happen – at least not in the near future.

In an article on the Malaysian Insider, Khazanah managing director, Tan Sri Datuk Azman Mokhtar, was quoted saying that the airline had to fix its basics and have a strong foundation before launching a rebranding exercise.

"To be honest, I do not feel [the rebranding exercise] is important now and also it is not a priority," he was quoted saying.

A+M has reached out to MAS for a confirmation and more details on the move.

The quote comes in direct contradiction to several articles published in both local and global press. Branding alone, was a topic several high ranking executives in the company, from ex- CMO Dean Dacko to newly appointed CEO Christoph Mueller, spoke about.

(Read also: Malaysia Airlines' branding challenges)

The statement also comes after months of pitching conducted by the airline for a new branding and advertising partner. The high profiled pitch drew the attention of the 4A’s in Malaysia which asked MAS to pay a pitch fee.

The branding pitch alone, saw big network agencies from both Singapore and Malaysia take part. Ultimately, following months of speculation, branding agency Prophet bagged branding duties while M&C Saatchi took on the contract as its main master creative agency.

Speaking under anonymity, one branding lead involved in the pitch expressed disappointment on the matter saying that a number of agencies put in substantial effort and MAS had in fact demanded a significant amount of work to be done from the agencies during the rounds of pitching.

While some might argue that a name change or a logo redesign is an expensive feat for the airline to undertake at this point, he countered it saying rebranding is never just about a name change, it is more to do with finding the airline's spirit, identity and an overarching idea.

While the discussion for the name change was brought up during the pitching session, his team was against the idea, he said.

But nonetheless, we were too deep in to the pitching process to pull out.The worst thing they could do is change a name because it automatically seems like they are hiding something. MAS never needed a name change.

He added that at a time when the airline should be working to build its trust with consumers and the industry, this move doesn't help build credibility in its partner ecosystem.

A case of broken trust?

Darren Woolley, founder and global CEO of TrinityP3 however thought an isolated situation such as this will not damage the reputation of the brand anymore significantly than it already is.

Client marketers do from time to time launch a pitch that not complete. In Singapore, under anonymity, several agencies have told A+M that government agencies such as HPB, HDB and NCPG have garnered such a reputation.

“This is usually when the marketing team race to the market place in a knee jerk reaction and without a clear, concise and agreed procurement strategy and plan,” Woolley said.

He adds that the danger for brands who make this mistake regularly however, is that the market becomes suspicious.

While you will find agencies that will want to pitch, the quality and caliber of the agencies declines as more reputable agencies make the decision to not waste their time.

“The bigger impact is on the professional reputation of the marketing lead. While sometimes the failure to achieve an outcomes may not be their fault directly, they are tarred with the poor reputation,” he said.

Paul Davies, managing partner of Roth Observatory International was of the view that should after a pitch, the client choose to terminate their contract with the agency after appointing them, it would definitely damage their reputation in the marketing industry.

“I suspect it would make the marketing industry be a little skeptical on future initiatives by the brand where they look for agency support. It also shows a level of internal disarray or disconnect which does not bode well as they try and turn around MAS,” said Davies.

Compensation for terminated contracts?

Moreover, should a client choose to terminate a contract with the agency after appointing them due to internal reason, both Davies and Woolley say a compensation is necessary.

However Davies added for large organisations, pitches can take a long time to complete and by the time the agency is appointed the market situation can have changed substantially.

“We also need to appreciate that clients also put a significant amount of time and effort into a pitch - even when using a search and selection consultant. So it is not a decision they make lightly and if a decision is to stop or not appoint an agency is made. it is more often than not for very good reasons,” he added.