Scoot's Valentine's Day ad on social faces turbulence due to customer service woes

Valentine's Day, which many argue, and agree, is a true blue marketing gimmick, often sees brands showing their romantic side. Showcasing memorable experiences with loved ones be it through gifts, dining or travel, consumers are generally bombarded with ads during this period.

In Singapore this year however, the situation seems somewhat sombre given the news of the COVID-19 continue to dominate headlines. Despite the situation, Scoot, a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, boldly decided to launch a spot celebrating experiences.  Known for its tongue in cheek humour and witty executions, on 9 February 2020, the budget carrier released a video on its social platform to entice couples to plan a romantic getaway. The short clip saw the young couple riding a vespa through the streets and having a ball travelling to various parts of the world with Scoot's flight services.

While the video garnered over 48,000 views in just four days (at the time of writing), unfortunately, it also attracted a slew of negative comments on Scoot's customer service by consumers and travellers looking for refunds and regarding cancellations.

One netizen demanded for the brand to stop advertising, while another added that the airline should "take care of the affected customers" instead of promoting its flights. Another consumer said that Scoot should stop posting [on social media] and, put more manpower at call centres as means of a brand image recovery in this current situation. "Your marketing and top management must think what is more important now," the netizen added.

It is worth mentioning that Scoot has done its part in bringing Chinese nationals back home to Wuhan, and flying Singaporeans back home to Singapore. The airline also stated on its site that it has suspended all flights between Singapore and Mainland China, and that affected customers booked on these flights will receive a 100% refund of their unused itinerary value via original mode of payment, and no further action is required.

While one could argue that the ad was rather well made, Freda Kwok, strategy director at Germs Digital said that brands need to understand the intricacies of market sentiments.

"Brands have the capacity and responsibility through advertising to educate, engage and entertain. The wide scope means having to understand the intricacies of market sentiments to decide what is  crucial to prioritise, as well as adopt sensitivities in recognising the role of the brand within the landscape," she said.

She explained that while industries such as fashion can use this time to distract consumers to keep spirits up, the tourism and travel industry will likely need to adjust their marketing strategies given consumers' cautiousness.

She added that in Scoot's instance, "the situation is exacerbated by customers who are already feeling upset that their holiday plans have to be abandoned and probably are in no mood to be exposed to advertising egging them to travel."

Kristian Olsen, MD of Type A was of the view that despite the COVID-19 situation and sensitivities around advertising during a climate of anti-travel, "life should go on".

"It is good for us to realise and remember that life should go on whether people want to fly or stay in this Valentine’s Day. However Scoot’s Valentine's Day promo itself isn’t being called into question. Rather, it is customers ranting based on the brand's  no refunds policy and lack of customer support," he said adding:

Brands need to realise that one bad policy has a tsunami effect on everything else so it is something they need to address fairly quickly.

"For Scoot, it is the right time to listen to their customer's needs and be flexible enough given the current climate," he added.

Lars Voedisch, managing director, PRecious Communications seconded Olsen’s comments that brands are in a tricky situation of having to balance their business needs, and acknowledging the overall health situation with people being more sensitive than ever. At the same time, allowing fear to take over would do no good either.

“Customers have the right to go on with their lives including celebrating Valentine's Day if they choose to. For brands this means they need to be sensible about acknowledging the situation but not stop with their business strategies,” he said.

Amidst the COVID-19 situation in Singapore and other parts of the world, a quick check by Marketing saw that some brands are stepping up to offer assistance to those impacted and also to ease any inconvenience. This include Traveloka which recently distributed N95 masks to travellers in Indonesia's airport, as well as Grab that launched GrabCare to ferry healthcare professionals to and from hospitals.

Meanwhile, here's a look at what consumers in Singapore are most concerned with by data analytics firm Circus Social.

Circus Social added that mentions and discussions around the topic have been exponentially increasing – with many individuals sharing information, and fears and sentiments online. As more cases continue to be discovered in Singapore, chatter has been growing on social media platforms and online forums.