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Good and Bad PR: Samsonite's reputation is as sturdy as their products, EaseMyTrip's jingoistic journey wins few fans


Welcome to the first edition of Good PR/Bad PR in 2024. We've had a cracking January already with some contrasting brand fortunes.

And of course, the Poonam Pandey misstep proved in spades that trust not your PR to digital agencies.

Buckle up for what promises to be an excellent year for some and one to forget for the rest.

Good PR

South Africa

Beginning on a positive note amidst many terrible cases of war atrocities already filtering through is the country of South Africa. I know we try to shy away from political discourse in this column, but more countries need to study and emulate a development of this magnitude.

South Africa, who themselves have the ignominy of Apartheid woven into their history, took on the might of Israel and the US at the International Court of Justice in January. The 'plausible genocide' case they brought to the court is certainly not going to stop all forms of violence, bombing, and killings immediately, but it has set significant precedence. With the Court ruling in their favour (partially), they have shown the world a possible path to ending the conflict and saving thousands of lives of women and children. Now, whichever side you find yourself on, saving innocent lives is an outcome we can all agree is favourable.

By acknowledging their mistakes from the past and trying to rectify the future for fellow humans halfway around the world, the country is sure to benefit from this goodwill accrued. Thank you, South Africa. Nelson Mandela would have been very proud.


Bad PR

EaseMyTrip

In stark contrast to their name, the adolescent travel booking portal has made it difficult for its patrons to reach Maldives. I mean, impossible. In a surreal sequence of events, relations soured when Maldivian Ministers responded to provocative discourse on X with an attack on the Indian Prime Minister's visit to Lakshadweep. Ill-advised definitely since India and Maldives have enjoyed a long, fruitful partnership across trade, tourism, and defence.

While everyone and their grandmother had an opinion, EaseMyTrip decided to dive headfirst into a delicate international affairs situation and stoke the fires a little more. They suspended all flight bookings from India to Male (Maldivian Capital) as a show of nationalistic fervour and brand opportunism. 

Firstly, the peak booking season for the Maldives had ended (thereby lessening the financial blow). Then came the barrage of customer complaints, most advising the brand to stop focusing on jingoism and service requests faster. Nothing infuriates digital customers more than feeling unheard.

Not to mention the dangerous precedence they are setting for themselves. Will they ban flights to Qatar, which sentenced Indian ex-Navy officers to the death penalty, or to China, Maldives' new best friend? Perhaps strike Kuwait off their list for deporting Indian workers for a show of religion at the workplace? 

Brb, checking if domains like www.cancelmytrip.com or www.stayathome.com are available for a knockdown price.

Good PR

Samsonite

In a world where influencer impact rises steadily (remember, we covered Stanley in 2023 and their strategic involvement of influencers in product development), here is an example of doing it correctly. In their latest campaign designed to showcase the ruggedness of their products, they roped in Milind Soman (model and long-distance runner) and Karun Chandhok (racing driver). Milind runs 32 km with the suitcase, and Karun tries his best to smash it to smithereens with his rally car. Both fail to make a dent in the Samsonite.

Lesser writing and more demonstration is a good sign for the audience. Brands can be guilty of using the wrong personality type to promote their products, relying instead on reach and engagement, but Samsonite manages to stitch both objectives seamlessly. Clean, simple and effective. Also, archiving this for later when I want to upgrade my current travel bag (also Samsonite).

Bad PR

Indian Aviation

A foggy day for Indian aviation, to say the least. Chaos erupted during the second week of January as a cold wave gripped Delhi and other northern cities, wrecking traveller and airline schedules across the country. While Indigo bore the brunt of the customer outrage, no part of the aviation industry was spared the blushes. You can fault the Delhi Airport authorities for pushing the one runway enabled with CAT 3 technology under maintenance in arguably the most needed time. Or point to the airlines for weak operations, which saw passengers locked in aerobridge tunnels for hours, stranded in stationary flights for more than 12 hours, or Indigo giving India its first tarmac langar (for which the DGCA levied hefty fines on them and Mumbai airport).

Of course, India's civil aviation and railway infrastructure leave much to be desired, and the weather is unpredictable, but the clear lack of empathy for passengers is inexcusable.

Good PR

Krutrim AI

India now has its first AI unicorn. Krutrim AI, from the house of Ola (Bhavish has led his third venture to unicorn status), has achieved the billion-dollar valuation mark with its latest round of funding. The Krutrim LLM has been trained on trillions of tokens spanning 10 Indian languages and can take inputs in 15 more.

Not long ago, a slightly smug Sam Altman proclaimed at an event that Indian engineers with measly budgets could not compete with OpenAI. That is a fair point, but what about Indian startups backed with the right money and intent? Krutrim changes India's position in the AI race, and we finally have a horse in the race. Most of the 1.4 billion Indians speak the top 25 languages amongst thousands of dialects. AI for All is only achievable with intelligent models to understand contextual references across languages.

Long way to go, and we hope Krutrim can keep it real, unlike its name (artificial in Sanskrit).

Shoeb is the director of brand content at Ideosphere Consulting. He loves helping brands and business leaders articulate their value better.


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