Marketing

Why a Flight Centre employee pranked this potential customer by sending him a $8,500 bill for first class flights

Emma Koehn /

The UK arm of Flight Centre says it “can’t take credit” for the creative way one of its staff members returned a lost driver’s licence to its owner in a prank that has seen tens of thousands of social media users discussing the company.

Will Armstrong tweeted details of the scheme overnight, sharing pictures of a Flight Centre package that had arrived in the mail shortly after he had lost his licence on a drunken night out.

Inside was a bill for first class flights to the Maldives, and a note informing Armstrong he owed more than £5,000 ($8,570) to secure his booking.

Turning the invoice over, however, the company revealed it was just having a bit of fun after discovering Armstrong’s drivers’ licence outside one of its stores. Having posted the ID back to him, the outlet reminded him to come back in store if he ever needed to book travel.

Flight Centre was widely congratulated for the joke, which has since been re-tweeted 60,000 times, with Armstrong even heading in store to meet the gentleman who discovered his ID and sent the mail.

 

Some Twitter users immediately questioned the authenticity of the post, suggesting it was perhaps the work of a communications agency, but the company responded saying they could not take credit for the work of its staff.

 

Customers praised Flight Centre for coming up with an old-school way to engage with customers in a time when the travel business is being disrupted by online retailers.

 

Closer to home, the Australian arm of Flight Centre reflected on the state of the travel industry yesterday. The ASX-listed company used the day of its AGM to provide a company update detailing a bigger focus on expanding its own travel product range.

Managing director of Flight Centre Australia, Graham Turner, told Fairfax the company’s success was “all about the vertical experience”, highlighting that because 80-90% of the company’s business model is selling other supplier’s travel products, developing a Flight Centre-owned product was important.

Going above and beyond a positive, but not without risks

Marketing Angels chief Michelle Gamble says Flight Centre’s prank is certainly creative, but warns SMEs to think carefully about joking with customers in the name of branding.

I think it’s clever but I do think it’s a bit dangerous,” she observes.

In this case, the risk is that by tricking a customer into thinking they have booked a product, a company is relying on them to interpret the message and see the funny side of it.

Pretending to give somebody something, or making him believe he bought it, could leave a sour taste in your mouth.”

When brands try to leverage real-life scenarios like this on social media, Gamble suggests a safer path would be to do the right thing by the customer, but also offer them a bonus or incentive to shop with you.

“Think of how you can leave a positive impression. You can do this, and give the guy his card back, but maybe say, ‘here’s a discount if you want to use it in future,'” she says.

Businesses should always be thinking beyond simple brand awareness when creating marketing stunts, Gamble says. This includes thinking about how a viral post might actually drive sales in  the long run.

“I think this one does things for brand awareness, but maybe not for driving travel bookings,” she says.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • Jan Deane

    Apparently everything has to be analysed by the “experts” these days! No random act is exempt!!