Malaysia Airlines renames "bucket list" contest

It was either an error of judgement or simply poor oversight

Malaysia’s beleagured national flag carrier has changed the wording of an online contest after Netizens criticised it for being insensitive to those who died in the twin disasters suffered by the airline this year that claimed 537 lives.

Six months since the unexplained loss of Flight MH370, the carrier launched the campaign asking Australian and New Zealand customers to describe in 500 words or less, "What and where would you like to tick off on your ‘bucket list’, and explain why?"

All very good except that someone in that long chain of PR decision-making failed to bring to notice the poor choice of words. The term "bucket list" is typically used to refer to a list of things someone should do before they die. PRWeek asked Malaysia Airlines how it failed to detect the poor choice of words but it did not respond.

"This kind of error is exactly what Malaysia Airlines didn't need right now," corporate comms consultant and founder of BlackLab marketing communications Adam Murray told PRWeek. "They are so focused on the big issues they have recently faced that they let a small but crucial detail slip. The result: embarrassment at best and offence to consumers at worst".

The error has now been rectified. On Wed (3 Sep) the original link to the "Bucket List" contest had been removed from the airline's website. Instead it has been recast as a "your ultimate to-do list". The contest asks participants to describe destinations and activities on their "to-do" list in return for a chance to win an iPad or a return flight to Malaysia.

"Malaysia Airlines has withdrawn the title of a competition running in Australia and New Zealand, as it is found to be inappropriate at this point in time," a statement by the airline said on Wednesday.

Hit by plunging ticket sales and passenger confidence Malaysia Airlines has offered discounts on some routes and launched special offers to revive its business. It has announced plans to cut almost 6000 jobs and scaled back its route network.  The airline is being put through a massive restructuring exercise under government bailout plan.

"The (bucketlist) campaign smacks of an organisation that sees social media purely through a marketing and product PR prism and that fails to understand that social media does not live in a vacuum but amplifies existing business issues and preconceptions," communications advisor Charlie Pownall told PRWeek.

"Social media demands a careful balance of risks and rewards. MAS needs to ensure that the risks of social media are fully understood and properly mitigated and managed, from the top to the bottom and from the centre to the edges of the firm," he said.

"Any brand activity must be considered through a lens of compassion and consideration, therefore this activity seems ill-timed and not ill-advised," says Jonathan Sanchez director of brand consultancy Stand.  "The issue for many brands attempting to recover from crisis is a fear that no communication will reflect as failing, when in fact sometimes the best thing to say is simply nothing."

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