Is there really no such thing as bad publicity – an analysis of Ryanair

Back in August 2013, the chief executive of Ryanair – Michael O’Leary – claimed that “Short of committing murder, negative publicity sells more seats than positive publicity”. Is it a cliché or is there any truth in this claim. Ryanair are well known for being an airline with poor customer service, but they’ve proved to be very successful in selling flights. I decided to use SimilarWeb PRO to investigate whether bad publicity was good publicity for Ryanair in terms of web traffic.


Web traffic

RyanAir year traffic

Analysis of website traffic for Ryanair between Apr ’13 – Apr ’14 by SimilarWeb PRO

I used SimilarWeb PRO to run an analysis on Ryanair over the last year and found some interesting variance. Apr ’13 – Jul ’13 sees a fairly steady rise in web traffic which is indicative of the lucrative Summer holiday season. Visitor numbers then fall between Aug ’13 – Sep’ 13 before a brief rise in October ’13 before, once again, falling for the period Nov ’13 – Dec ’13. 2014 gets off to a good start with an almost 40% rise in visitors for Jan ’14, but figures fall once again in Feb ’14. Mar ’14 – Apr ’14, however, record continuous rises which contribute to make them the two busiest months in the previous year.

Peaks and troughs

SimilarWeb PRO highlighted a number of peaks and troughs in Ryanair’s web traffic figures, so I began to research whether these anomalies correlated to any particular news stories featuring Ryanair.

Which? Magazine

September 2013 saw the British consumer magazine Which? Voting Ryanair as the worst of the 100 biggest brands used by the British public. It’s not the type of recognition that engenders faith in a brand, but did it cause a mad stampede to Ryanair’s website? Well, SimilarWeb PRO shows that Sep ’13 recoded just over 27 million visits for Ryanair – the lowest figures in 6 months. This is a good example of bad publicity having a bad effect on web traffic.

Profit warnings


Daily website visits for Ryanair in Nov ’13 by SimilarWeb PRO

November 2013 saw a drop in visitor figures for Ryanair, but a little bit of investigation revealed that some bad publicity had resulted in a brief surge in visitors. Reports surfaced on 4th November that Ryanair were due to experience their first fall in profits for five years. The result of this bad publicity meant that 4th November received just over 200,000 more viewers than November’s daily average and nearly 100,000 more viewers than the daily average for Apr ’13 – Apr ’14. These figures show that even negative publicity can still draw in interest in a brand.

Website glitches


Daily website visits for Ryanair in Jan ’14 by SimilarWeb PRO

In response to customer complaints about their user-unfriendly website, Ryanair decided to redesign it in January 2014. However, as with most things Ryanair related, they appear to have done this on the cheap. Visitors were booking flights, but not receiving any booking confirmations which caused distress for many customers. How did this impact upon visitor figures though? Well, perhaps due to the fact that it highlighted Ryanair’s cost price nature, figures soared throughout January 2014. Average daily visits for the month were 50,000 visits higher than the average daily visits for Apr ’13 – Apr ’14   Even with a below-par website, Ryanair have proved that bad publicity is not bad for their brand.

Compensation Battles

Martin Wragg travelled to Spain with Ryanair in October 2012 and experienced numerous problems with his return flight. After an 18 month legal battle, Ryanair were forced to pay compensation to Martin Wragg and the airline was exposed as being dishonest and duplicitous. Surely this level of customer service would steer people away from the brand. Their website traffic indicates the opposite as Apr ’14 recorded nearly 40 million visits. Again, this indicates that bad publicity of this nature merely reaffirms Ryanair as difficult, but cheap.

Is bad publicity actually good publicity?

Ryanair’s raison d’être has always been that they’re the cheapest travel option available. A better description, given the bad publicity we’ve highlighted, would be cheap and nasty. However, their website traffic only appears to be affected negatively due to holiday seasons. The only anomaly we were able to highlight was the Which? magazine article, but again, by September, the Summer holidays are over, so a drop off is expected. Despite profit warnings, badly designed websites and terrible, terrible customer service standards, Ryanair seem to thrive – at least in terms of web traffic – when they’re at their worst.

About the Author -

Natalie Halimi is the Head of Marketing Communications & Education at SimilarWeb. With over 10 years of experience in marketing, Natalie has promoted services and products in the B2C and B2B arenas, in various industries.

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