Honesty in marketing and PR: Talking about the negatives as well as the positives

Should marketing and PR talk about the negatives as well as the positives in a new product launch?

Let’s talk about honesty in marketing and PR.

Countless press releases promoting new products and services hit in boxes everyday. And not just about brand new propositions, even minor improvements get promoted. It’s all part of marketing communications. Letting your customer know about the features, and more importantly the benefits, to them, of the new stuff.

LONDON, UK: World Traveller cabin on a British Airways Boeing 777 at London Gatwick on 04 March 2018 (Picture by Nick Morrish/British Airways)

Companies want to shout out loud about the launch because they’ve invested heavily in its development. They want to attract more customers. They want to guarantee a rapid return on their investment.

But what if there are also negatives about the new offer? Should marketing and PR be honest about any negatives? Or is it okay to hide them away. Or not even mention them? Is honesty the best policy?

I came across a press release from British Airways highlighting their refurbishment project for their Boeing 777 fleet at London Gatwick airport. These long haul work horse aircraft serve the leisure routes to the Caribbean, Florida and South America.

The positives


The headline of the press release screams about the improvements to the customer experience. In shouty capitals no less.

For those not familiar with British Airways brand hierarchy, World Traveller is the airline’s long haul economy brand, and World Traveller Plus is the premium economy cabin.

So we’re looking at improvements to the cabins most people fly in as they jet off on holiday with BA from Gatwick.

Next the press release unpacks the good news.

The new World Traveller Plus and World Traveller cabins….have been fitted with elegant new seats with 50 per cent larger entertainment screens…

Sounds good.

Great attention to detail has also been paid to how the customer uses their seat, with the World Traveller Plus design featuring a new leg and footrest, as well as an improved fully adjustable six-way headrest to suit customers of all heights. The new seat also has a cocktail table at the front and in-arm tray tables.

Nice. Liking the sound of premium economy.

The World Traveller cabins have also been fitted with the newest, most enhanced seating, which feature a six-way headrest with adjustable ears for added comfort and movable middle arm rests…

Even the new cattle class seats sound great.

The new in-flight Panasonic entertainment system – which has the capacity to offer four times as many films, TV and audio – has been updated with larger HD screens and gesture control to navigate the interface like using a tablet. The screen size will double from six to 12 inches in World Traveller Plus, and increase from six to 10 inches in World Traveller.

Superb. Now even the longest flights will be more bearable with all this HD audio and video content.

Bespoke lighting has been fitted in every cabin and can be set to reflect the time of day, helping to lull travellers to sleep at night and wake them in the morning so customers arrive feeling fresher and the effect of jet-lag is lessened.

Oh, I do like mood lighting. Seriously. I find it helps me to nod off.

All sounds great doesn’t it. The press release gushes about the benefits. And why not? BA wants people to know about their excellent new products.

Let’s face it. Long haul economy travel is uncomfortable for many people and the BA improvements will make journeys more agreeable.

The negative

But there is a negative.

And it’s a big one.

And BA don’t mention it at all in the press release. Not even in the “Note to Editors” section at the end of the release.

Before they refurbished the Gatwick 777s, BA’s economy seating was nine abreast in a 3 x 3 x 3 format.

During the upgrade BA stuck in an extra line of seats, increasing economy to ten abreast in a 3 x 4 x 3 format.

To squeeze the extra seats in BA, made them smaller.

The old seats were 18.1in wide. The new ones are 17.4in wide.

Losing almost an inch of seat width maybe doesn’t sound much until you’re sat next to someone with wide shoulders and jutting elbows with a nine-hour flight ahead of you.

Ten abreast also means narrower aisles and more chance of the food and duty free trolleys bashing into aisle seat passengers.

Within Waterside, the sprawling BA headquarters near London Heathrow airport, the name for the project to refurbish the Gatwick birds is “Densification”.


Whilst brand new seats and bigger HD inflight entertainment screens are a positive benefit for customers, calling the project “densification” doesn’t make it sound customer focused to me.

It’s a horrible, made up, management speak name, for cramming in more, smaller, seats and reducing passenger comfort and personal space.

The pretty new screens and mood lighting are clearly sweetening the bitter pill of more cramped seating. The fact the press release doesn’t even mention “densification” confirms this.

Were BA relying on lazy journalists not digging a little deeper into the story, hoping they’d just copy and paste the press release into their publications. It does happen. Sometimes journalists are so busy they don’t have time to investigate further.

Does this matter?

In fairness to BA, although Boeing designed the 777 for nine abreast seating in economy, most airlines now run ten across. BA can just say they’re following the market trend.

Will passengers even notice?

Unless you’re a frequent flyer like me, you won’t geek out on airline seating arrangements. Most passengers will be grateful for the upgraded seats with clean new covers and HD in flight entertainment. The old, standard definition system, was certainly showing its age.

But BA has a reputation for its marketing hype. Putting a positive spin on its cuts in service and its cramming in of more seats.

I believe in honesty in marketing and PR. I think BA should have mentioned the change from nine to ten abreast and the reduced seat width. Then customers could decide whether the improvements to the in flight entertainment and the new seats were a fair trade-off for the reduction in personal space on board.

Marketing called it a, “PLUS-SIZED MAKE OVER.”

BA management called it, “DENSIFICATION.”

What would you call it?

Now it’s your turn:

Do you think BA should have been honest about the more cramped seating? Or were they right just to promote the positives? Should there be honesty in marketing and PR or is it okay to hide the truth?

BOB means BA short haul admits defeat in 20 year battle with low cost airlines

If you flew with British Airways from Edinburgh to London Heathrow today, Tuesday 10 Jan 2017, you’ll have enjoyed the traditional BA domestic brekkie for the last time.

A small plastic tray with a tin plate of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, mushrooms and tomato. An orange juice cuplet. Bread roll, butter and jam. And a cup for a free coffee or tea.

From 11 Jan there’ll be no more free food. No more free hot, cold and alcoholic drinks.

If you want something to eat or drink you’ll have to “buy on board” or BOB as frequent flyers like to say.

Low cost airlines
After almost 20 years BA has at last admitted defeat in its battle against the low cost airlines. It’s boast for many years of being a “full service” airline, justifying wallet emptying prices, even in Economy, is over.

BA short haul is now playing the same game as Easy Jet and RyanAir.

It’s been a slow progression. An enhancement by a thousand cuts.

Big breakfasts and 3-course dinners

Back in 1993, before a Greek entrepreneur decided to lease a couple of old Boeing 737s and paint his phone number on the sides in giant orange letters, BA and British Midland ruled the UK Domestic skies and the European short haul market.

And their prices were eye watering.

If you’ve been travelling on business for as long as me, you’ll remember the domestic service in the early 1990s. Breakfasts spilled over the edges of a large plastic tray. In addition to all the hot stuff, they gave you cornflakes and milk, yogurt and hot bread.

In the evenings they’d treat you to a bar run before dinner, a three-course hot meal with a second drink from the bar and then a tea, coffee and liquor run.

All in an hour. Each plane had 7 crew to deliver such service.

The low cost airlines revolution

Then Stelios changed everything in 1995 by putting on his orange boiler suit and launching Easy Jet.

No free meals or drinks. No allocated seats. Cabin crew decked out in casual bright orange sweatshirts.

Most importantly Easy Jet’s prices were a fraction of BA and BMI duopoly excesses.

Holiday makers relished the sudden opportunity to fly cheaply to new destinations. Corporate accountants rubbed their hands with glee and told their travelling staff, “No more BA full fares”.

It was a revolution.

The smaller BA brekkie circa 2011 – still with China cup which they replaced with plastic soon after

BA fights back by cutting back

But slowly BA had to chip away at the service so they could compete more with the low cost airlines.

Out went the multiple bar runs and three-course meals (because they had to dump 3 crew members on each flight). The meal trays became smaller. Salads replaced hot meals. Then sandwiches replaced salads.

Eventually, as the new millennium dawned and Easy Jet and RyanAir had divided up Europe between them, the sum total of BA’s full-service offering was a free drink and a tiny packet or crisps or “birdseed”, or the rather delicious “lemon melt” biscuits.

Some people stuck with BA and I was one of them  – at first. My company was happy to continue to pay the monster fares. “We want our people to arrive for their presentations with a full tummy so they can perform at their best.”

The argument wears a little thin when you are paying £500 full fare against £50 for a cup of coffee and a few crisps.

BOB is good?

In truth, BOB is a good move for BA customers. After a long day travelling an individually wrapped crisp is never going to sate anyone’s hunger. On Easy Jet or RyanAir, if you want, you could buy a much better food offering than BA’s full service. Now BA has abandoned any pretence and gone BOB everyone’s happy.

On European routes, if you still want free food and drink you can pay for business class on BA.

They are rumoured to be about to launch Club Europe on UK Domestic routes so they might still be able to fleece those companies prepared to pay the giant prices (but in fairness a domestic business class product will be aimed at passengers connecting to long haul Club or FIRST).

No doubt the BA hot domestic brekkie will reappear for Club passengers.

But I suspect there’ll only be a few rows of Club at the front of the plane.

The rest of us will be down the back with BOB, or flying on an orange plane instead.

And the winner is

You see here’s the thing.

1995 Easy Jet felt a little amateurish. Those garish sweatshirts. The frantic stampede from the cattle pens to grab a decent seat. Noisy old Boeing 737s.

2017 Easy Jet fly spanking new Airbuses. Crew wear smart suits (with orange trim of course). You get an allocated seat.

And most important, their flights are on time. I’ve flown EZY 35 times in the last year and only had two late flights.

BA on the other hand always seem to be late. And their previous great customer service has worsened as quick as their onboard meals have shrunk in size. As Easy Jet sought to improve customer experience, BA have been happy to let it go.

I defected from BA to EZY based on their on time performance, rock bottom fares and buy on board choice.

BA clung onto the “full service airline” tag for too long. They thought they were conning their customers with marketing spin but we realised the truth and moved on.

BOB on BA won’t be enough to entice me back onto the national flag carrier.

The future’s bright.

The future’s orange.