Qantas is the fairytale story emerging from early pandemic polling, leveraging its ‘mercy flights’ to catapult into Australia’s third most trusted brand – but it’s a badge that might not stick for long.
As Virgin Australia collapsed and plane after plane was grounded, the Flying Kangaroo soared overseas to rescue stranded Australians before global borders sealed shut.
Whether it was a calculated bold move, clever business tactics or just a matter of ability, Qantas’ actions in the early days of the pandemic won it favour among Australians, aviation expert Greg Bamber said.
It gave Qantas the wings to lift two rankings (year on year) into third spot in Roy Morgan’s most-trusted brands top 10, as determined by surveyed Australians.
As recently as December, Qantas was down at No.7 on the list.
Bunnings remained the perennial favourite at No.1, while Woolworths was top of the supermarkets at No.2.
University of Tasmania senior marketing lecturer Louise Grimmer said the strong performance of the retail industry and supermarkets could be attributed not just to the companies as a whole, but to individuals.
“I think consumers really appreciated the way that retail workers turned up for work every day even during the height of the pandemic and remember these are amongst the lowest-paid workers in the country,” Dr Grimmer said.
Wings in danger of being clipped
Although these results show Australians’ attitude in April, it could be a very different story for Qantas if the survey was done today, said Professor Bamber, who is from Monash University and is co-author of Up in the Air.
“(Qantas) had a fair bit of favourable publicity for running those so-called mercy flights to bring people back,” Professor Bamber told The New Daily.
Dr Grimmer said the public face of Qantas – Alan Joyce – had a lot to do with instilling confidence in the flying public.
“He has been very transparent and upfront with his media appearances,” Dr Grimmer said.
“When we see airlines doing their best through a crisis not of their making this can have a significant impact on public perception of the brand.”
The past few weeks, however, have brought some turbulence to the airline’s image.
Qantas looked strong as Virgin Australia fell quickly into voluntary administration, but Professor Bamber said Mr Joyce might have gone too hard at an already wounded competitor.
“Mr Joyce came out with a very hard line against Virgin unnecessarily, attacking Virgin before it even went down,” he said.
Mr Joyce recently openly called on the government to grant Qantas social distancing exemptions, and allow it to seat passengers in middle seats. It’s not the first time it has done so.
While Qantas has built itself a solid reputation and loyal following through its confidence and bravado, Professor Bamber said it was a fine line to tread.
“These sorts of issues may well impact the reputation of Qantas in the next round,” he said.
Woolworths wins the supermarket battle
Traditionally in Roy Morgan’s polling, Woolworths and Aldi tussle for the top slot, with Coles sometimes close or some distance behind.
- Related: The top trusted brands of 2019
While we can’t see the percentage points that separate Woolworths from Aldi (No.4) and Coles (No.8), Dr Grimmer said it could be to do with public perception.
“(Woolworths really hit) home the message that they are trying their hardest to provide their customers with healthy options, including fresh produce, and this has been really top of mind for consumers during COVID-19,” Dr Grimmer told TND.
She said Woolies’ moves were even more significant, entering the pandemic off the back of a wage theft scandal.
Bunnings, as usual, rarely puts a foot wrong, and the coronavirus lockdown has done it nothing but favours.
“The brand provided some semblance or reassurance for consumers during uncertain times and allowed people to complete projects around their homes. DIY and renovation and gardening have been very popular activities during lockdown.”