Thomas Cook has begun a social media fightback after suffering what most commentators have concluded was a direct hit from rival Lowcost Holidays.
The travel giant faced a cheeky request on its Facebook site in November last year at the height of its financial crisis from a person purporting to be a real life Thomas Cook.
He claimed he had suffered for 26 years from the association, and demanded, tongue-in-cheek, a free holiday by way of compensation.
When Cook replied to say it could not grant the request and directed him to their holiday deals for the ‘best prices’, Lowcost seized on the situation and gave him a free trip to Paris.
And that was that, or so it seemed.
This week’s social media storm was sparked when Mr Cook posted an image of himself on the Paris trip and it went viral.
His original message and response from Cook got to the top of social sharing site Reddit. Lowcost’s Twitter feed and Facebook site were deluged with positive responses and Cook was given a kicking.
Under fire Thomas Cook yesterday posted a new response on its Facebook page, playing the charity card to try to counter the masses of negative comment about its ‘big corporate’ initial response.
Mr Cook has been encouraged to take a free trip by helping volunteer on the firm’s 10th annual Flight of Dreams visit to see Father Christmas on which they take sick children from the UK.
Although generating over 200 likes, this prompted further criticism over Cook’s approach to social media, one poster saying the obvious solution would be to offer the first 10 Thomas Cooks to get in touch a free trip.
While the plaudits have poured in for Lowcost and social media networks have been filled with self-appointed experts praising its social media strategy, maybe it’s worth recalling the background to this.
Lowcost’s initial response to Mr Cook included a phrase that pointed to a rather less seemly side of this apparent upstart David versus established giant Goliath tussle.
Posting under the Lowcost name, Charlotte Hunt, who offered Mr Cook his free holiday, wrote:
“So in Thomas Cook’s time of crisis we thought it was about time we stepped in to offer a helping hand to customers like yourself who have found themselves, as we like to say ‘Thomas Crooked’.”
At the time last November, Thomas Cook had delayed issuing of its year-end results as the true extent of the problems that saw former chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa resign earlier in the year became apparent.
Lowcost decided, as the operator faced probably the biggest crisis in its 125 year history, it was acceptable to run a PPC campaign asking web users if they have “Been Thomas Crooked”.
Understandably this prompted an angry response from Cook who threatened legal action and complained to trade association Abta.
Despite initially laughing the spat off as a joke, within hours, as the obviously inappropriate nature of the slur became apparent, Lowcost chief executive Paul Evans (who was actually in the Travolution offices at the time) was forced to issue a fulsome apology.
The firm quickly stopped ‘liking to say Thomas Crooked’. (You have to wonder whether a case of thick fingers was to blame for this as ‘Thomas Crocked’ would have been far more apt).
Anyway, the apology was accepted, the PPC campaign was pulled and Abta called off the dogs but, of course, online nothing really ever completely goes away.
Lowcost’s offer of the Paris trip came on November 23, a week after Mr Cook’s initial post on Cook’s Facebook site and the day before the Crooked PPC campaign was pulled.
So Lowcost arguably now finds itself bathing in the warm glow of a social media love-in from new ‘friends’ unaware how closely it is associated with a near digital marketing disaster.
Would the former have happened without the latter? It’s impossible to tell, but it’s probably inadvisable to defame a major competitor to find out.