With Malaysia Airlines flight 370 still missing, and flight 17 shot down over Ukraine by Russian-backed rebels in 2014, the Kuala Lumpur-based airline is still in recovery mode.
Sustaining two aircraft losses in one year and nearly 600 fatalities is a tough position for any airline — even one that’s not a national carrier hamstrung by strong ties to its country’s ruling dictatorship. Its often tone-deaf response to the tragedy, from radio silence on social media channels following the disappearance of MH 370 to a poorly thought campaign to getaway to an unknown destination, quickly became a model for how airlines shouldn’t respond in a crisis.
Malaysia Airlines’ failure to communicate stood in stark contrast to Air Asia’s response in December to the loss of its aircraft in Indonesia, which was largely seen as a masterclass in communicating during a tragedy.
Despite its shortcomings, Malaysia Airlines did make some effort to console the families and friends’ of the victims over social media, uploading comments about staying strong were to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Malaysia Airlines tried to use the hashtag #staystrong to acknowledge the sentiment and provide a means to express solidarity after its second incident in July.
When the second tragedy took place Malaysia Air dropped its social media agency’s proposal to deal with the crisis and took full creative control.
Mohd Hisham Saleh, head of social media and innovation at Malaysia Airlines, looked to brands like Cartier and BMW for inspiration. “They did not sell the brand, the sell the story,” said Saleh. He also noticed the connection of fashion and film to storytelling and decided to attempt something out of his comfort zone.
Saleh openly stated, “Our brand is still sick. If your brand has a fever, you just can’t stay sick. As a brand you have to try. You have to do it again and again.”
In collaboration with a film production house and a Malaysian singer based in the U.S., Yuna, Saleh wrote, produced, and co-directed “Terbang,” a short film that focused on the human spirit.
The film was promoted during Malaysia’s National Day in September and ran for three months. To Malaysia Airlines’ surprise, “Terbang” garnered 500,000 views, while an accompanying music video gathered one million views on YouTube.
Senior management gave the green light to produce additional two films in Malay with English subtitles. The latest film titled, “Blessings” was inspired by the airline’s holiday video that rewarded select flyers with a personalized box of surprises at the airport. “Blessings” was set during Chinese New Year and it was about being more open to accepting good graces. In gained nearly 1.3 million views on YouTub in two weeks.