By Rob Taylor
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's Qantas Airlines has been left red-faced after an ill-timed public relations campaign and Twitter competition backfired, drawing thousands of angry responses.
Qantas Tuesday invited users of the micro-blogging site to enter a "Qantas Luxury" competition, asking people to describe their "dream luxury in-flight experience" and possibly win a pair of Qantas first-class pyjamas and a toiletries kit.
The timing of the PR exercise was questionable, coming just a day after Qantas and its unions broke off contract negotiations and after Qantas grounded its fleet in late October, a drastic move that stranded thousands of angry customers.
PR experts said the campaign was perhaps Australia's greatest public relations failure and a classic example of the dangers of unpredictable social media.
"Epic PR fail, excellent case study in corporate cultural tone deafness. Simply don't get it," said social media commentator Peter Clarke.
Twitter user "stanofid" called the campaign the "Hindenburg of social media strategies."
Other unimpressed Twitter users set a stream of responses ranging from caustic jokes about the carrier to ordinary abuse.
Twitter user "ChanArmstrong" said Qantas luxury was "more than 3mins notice that the whole airline is on strike," while another user, describing themselves as "thesuspecto," said their answer was, "chose Singapore Air luxury instead."
Daniel Angus, using the Twitter name "antmandan," said Qantas luxury meant "being stranded on the other side of the world without warning when you just want to get home to your 10-month-old daughter."
Qantas last week hired four social media monitors to keep tabs on what people were saying about it on Twitter and Facebook after the fleet grounding. The carrier has also promised generous compensation for stranded passengers.
But Qantas put on a brave face, taking to Twitter again to quip Tuesday, "at this rate our #QantasLuxury competition is going to take years to judge."
The discussion came as unions considered launching more disruptions to Qantas flights and the Australian government's industrial relations umpire began work to impose a new wage agreement between Qantas management and workers.
This is not the first time Qantas has been in hot water over its PR efforts. In August it was criticized for a competition asking Australian fans to pose as their favorite rugby player and two fans posed as Fiji-born Radike Samo in Afro wigs and black paint.
The airline was pelted by critics for that episode, but others and Radike himself said the fans were paying him a tribute.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Matt Driskill)