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Jul 31, 2018

Air Canada’s bid for Aeroplan spurs customer fear, confusion, expert says

Air Canada bid for Aimia's Aeroplan: 'A case of communications confusion'

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The aggressive tactics used by Air Canada in its group offer to buy Aeroplan shows the airline is trying to get customers on its side as it seeks to bring the loyalty program back under its wing, according to a communications expert.

Bob Pickard, principal at Signal Leadership Communications, told BNN Bloomberg Tuesday that Air Canada’s bid to buy Aeroplan from Aimia Inc. has been based on a campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

“We call it ‘FUD’ in the PR (public relations) business. The FUD factor here has been off the scale,” said Pickard. “The extent to which they’re saying, ‘Do this, do what we’re suggesting, accept the Air Canada offer by this Thursday or else.’ This kind of ultimatum communication, I think, rubs people the wrong way.”

With Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu repeatedly speaking about the unfunded liability of $2 billion worth of points among Aeroplan’s five million customers, the airline is trying to convince customers that a deal with the airline would ensure that their points remain safe, said Pickard.

“We’re making this deal open and transparent, so that all stakeholders know about it, but really what Air Canada is doing is they’re trying to pressure the customers, the five million people … so that the customers themselves will be afraid about what’s going to happen with their points, and maybe think ok, maybe Air Canada is the safest option,” he said.

Aimia has until Thursday to respond to the Air Canada-led group offer of $250 million in cash, and the assumption of $2 billion in Aeroplan points liability. 

‘BACK OFF’

While Rovinescu has been vocal about the deal, addressing it during an earnings conference call just two days after announcing the Aeroplan offer to correct misconceptions, Pickard suggested he should keep low profile going forward.

“If I were Air Canada, I would back off a little bit; reduce the focus on the CEO. He’s a very accomplished, award-winning figure. I admire him and his accomplishments, but he may not be the most sympathetic consumer communicator,” Pickard said.

Pickard added that Air Canada’s about-face on Aeroplan has led to “massive consumer confusion.”

“It was only 446 days ago today that Air Canada said they would not be moving forward with Aeroplan, and now they’re saying they want Aeroplan back,” Pickard said. “There are some customers out there who don’t even know that Aeroplan left and wasn’t part of Air Canada in the first place.”

Whichever party can bring about confidence and clarity in this situation, will be the most convincing winner when it comes to public communication, according to Pickard.

Meanwhile, he said Aimia should position itself as the underdog that they are.

“They should be the voice of those five million people, whose points they have as the custodian, the responsible caretaker,” he said.