According to Google's January statistics, the 11th most searched for phrase (by South Africans) was “Mango Airlines”. Well, over December and January there must have been quite a few lost South Africans – Google searches on Mango Airline's own name didn't top the search engine's ranking! Happily, Mango Airline's website recently made it to the top of the Google, Yahoo and MSN search heaps (the South African search engines, Ananzi & Funnel, are behind the curve, with Mango Airlines yet to hit their top 10 radar screens). This struggle to top search engine rankings is the latest episode in the state-owned carriers' rocky marriage with the internet.
In 2001 a disgruntled Texan by the name of Vernon Six, gave South African Airways a lesson in how an individual can leverage the power of the internet.
Travelling to South Africa on his honeymoon, Mr. Six and his bride were assigned seats in different rows. When asking to be reseated SAA's agent said “Stop your complaining … after about ten years of marriage you will be begging for seats in different rows.” The air-conditioning was not working; the toilet flooded on their outbound flight and wasn't working on the in-bound flight; the seat in front of Mr. Six's bride was broken and reclined well past the normal reclining position; and the television was jumping. A flight attendant's response to Mr Six's complaints - “I’m sorry, but this is just economy class.” (Exactly the same response was recently given by an SAA attendant to this article's author).
When SAA refused compensation, Mr. Six set up a website - neverflysaa.com (since been discontinued), a parody of SAA’s official website, www.flysaa.com. The site experienced millions of hits, with aggrieved SAA customers using it as an outlet for their complaints. SAA then came up with the extraordinary argument that some people do not “not know the meaning of or the linguistic consequences of the addition of the prefix ‘never'”, and may mistakenly think that the site is “owned or controlled by South African Airways”; demanding that the ownership of the domain be transferred to SAA. Mr. Six pointed out that “no reasonable person would confuse the name ‘neverflysaa.com’ with the name ‘flysaa.com’”. The governing panel agreed and ruled that the domain name not be transferred to SAA.
When SAA launched Mango Airlines they chose the domain flymango.com. Keen on avoiding a repeat of the Vernon Six affair they snapped up domains such as neverflymango.com, vrotmango.co.za and Rotten-mango.co.za. But this is really like farting against thunder – the power of the web 2.0 environment is that if somebody wants to voice their opinion they will. If the site vrotmango.co.za is taken then F%$#Mango.co.za is available; never mind all the options available on blogs (like 24.com) and forums (like mybroadband.co.za).
The lesson that the state-owned carriers have hopefully learned, is that it is painfully difficult to manipulate the opinions expressed in the web 2.0 environment. A company's best bet is to provide good value for money and address its mistakes in a client-friendly manner.
Mango would have done well to focus more effort on Search Engine Marketing – the months taken to climb to the top of the search engine rankings for their own brand name have cost them.