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A bundle of wrongs: Why communications teams needs a veto on legalese
Welcome to a midweek, midafternoon update from Unmade.
Today: Why letting the lawyers loose risks brand damage; and another flat day on the Unmade Index
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What happens in court does not stay in court
Tim Burrowes writes:
It was a belter of a phrase.
The sort of thing that will become a long running joke.
“Bundle of rights”, the Qantas legalese used in defence of its practice of selling tickets to flights that did not exist, will haunt the airline for ages.
“I’ve just got to catch my bundle of rights to Canberra.”
“I hope my bundle of rights doesn’t get cancelled.”
“Have you seen how much a bundle of rights to Europe costs these days?”
It came as part of Qantas’s legal defence against the ACCCs enforcement action.
And while it might be technically correct to argue that the terms and conditions state an airline’s job is to merely get people to their destination, that doesn’t stand up to what customers expect. They believe they’ve bought a ticket to fly at a particular time, not a bundle of rights.
To the public, the phrase sounds like slippery legal language rather than a brand taking responsibility. It’s the sort of highly legal language which may accurately justify the airline’s legal reasoning to a judge, but fails to take into account the secondary public audience that will hear the words too.
It’s not the first time a brand has taken a major hit where the legal department outgunned the marketing team.
One of the issues that put Optus on the back foot in last September’s data hack scandal was its failure to give it to the public straight in the first few days. While the management listened to the lawyers and failed to apologise or explain properly, its reputation bled out.
How Unmade covered the Optus disaster:
There’ve been plenty of other examples.
Back in 2012 CommBank made what was a spectacular blunder, during the London Olympics. It sounds ridiculous when you say it now, but in a city which was still traumatised by the London bus and tube bombings, CommBank mascots filmed skits involving them making a hoax bomb threat to a security guard.
As I wrote for Mumbrella at the time, the blunder was pretty bad, but the crappy, lawyer-approved apology made it far worse.
And there’s more.
There was the time in 2013 when Subway let the lawyers answer a social media complaint that its Footlong was not, in fact, a foot long. They confirmed this was true, arguing that Footlong was “a registered trademark… and not intended to be a measurement of length”.
High comedy indeed. And highly viral comedy at that. It made global headlines.
Organisations whose brands matter - which is all of them - need to have a marketing or communications voice in the room when CEOs are deciding legal strategy on issues in the public arena. What happens in court does not stay in court.
Saying the most legally safe thing during a crisis is almost never neutral for a brand. And this week that’s become Qantas’s latest problem.
Unmade Index stays flat
Seja Al Zaidi writes:
For the second day in a row, the Unmade Index beat the wider market and stayed narrowly in positive territory, rising 0.09% to 570.9 points.
Out of home minnow Motio rose 26.92%, and Ooh Media 3.16%. Southern Cross Austereo rose 1.69%.
Enero Group had the sharpest drop - 2.89% - while Domain fell 0.88%, IVE Group lost 0.54% and Nine 0.27%.
Time to leave you to your Wednesday.
We’ll be back with an audio-led edition tomorrow, featuring the two leaders of Paramount, Jarrod Villani and Beverley McGarvey.
Have a great afternoon.
Publisher - Unmade