How customer complaints became a brand's badge of honor

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This is a social media case study of Ryanair. If you're not familiar with them, buckle up. It's not just their planes that have "firm" ("hard") landings.

For example, should brands taunt customers who complain? Test your knowledge...

Quiz: Social Media 101 True or False

  1. Brands should taunt customers who make complaints.
  2. Brands should use their own marketing team as talent in social media videos to pose as customers.
  3. Brands should share posts of other brands making fun of them, and should lampoon other brands in their own posts as well.

While you probably chose FALSE on all three statements, Ryanair would give a resounding TRUE. Ryanair is able to do in its social media what other carriers and brands across other industries cannot.

Twitter ryanairRyanair successfully uses an entertaining and snarky voice to reinforce the features that facilitate their business strategy. Their unabashed approach to taunting, teasing and teaching their lovers and haters garners engagement that surpasses other carriers.

Most brands cannot authentically do this because they’re too busy trying to cover off on myriad other brand attributes and unwilling to potentially offend and disenfranchise valuable customers. Attempts to employ memes come across as trying too hard and arriving too late. It just doesn't work.


Ryanair knows its purpose

Distinct and strong brands can't be all things to all people. Ryanair, an Irish low-cost airline serving Europe, understands this very well. They focus on two things:

  • delivering the lowest cost air fares,
  • as the “clean and green” leader, with the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Its brand position in Europe is similar to Frontier (“America’s greenest airline”) or Spirit (America’s “leading ultra low cost carrier”), but it's far more successful—both its business and healthy social media engagement. Ryanair has distinguished itself by offering the lowest fares and has grown to be the most popular airline in Europe with over 160 million passengers in 2022 and third largest worldwide. It surpassed prestige brand Lufthansa Group in number of passengers in 2019 despite having a smaller fleet and far fewer destinations, even today.


extra chargesThe Key: Customer UX is à la carte

Ryanair doesn’t achieve this success by giving excellent service, serving the best food at the most convenient airports or by giving away any amenities that make flights more comfortable. They do it by staying hyper-focused on reducing costs and reducing emissions. They don’t bother trying to convince anyone that they’ll get anything else from an experience with their brand. At least, not without paying for it. Everything is an add-on. Everything.

They even flaunt real 1-star reviews in ads promoting their cheap flights. 

1 star reviews

Social media brand personality

From a personality standpoint, Ryanair sets itself apart from every other carrier with their sassy and definitively Gen Z social media voice. If other brands hug their haters in order to get better, Ryanair pokes its haters to get more fodder for its savage Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds.


announcment: keep complainingCutting.

They know who they are, and they aren’t worried about what you think.

Their social media is full of customer complaints, which they handle with a proverbial wrecking ball of care. They are known for taunting customers who complain on their social media feeds. Satisfied customers often chime in and pile on to the complainer. Online complaints that are repurposed into a fresh post are something of a badge of honor.

One commenter on Instagram responded to a complainer with this:

You just need to see, and use, @ryanair for what it really offer (sic.) - cheap cattle class flights all over Europe. 🤷🏻‍♂️😉

And it seems that Ryanair agrees. Here are some gems from Ryanair’s socials along with a few typical comments—both complainers and defenders.


Common complaint #1: Window seats that don’t have windows

“We sell seats not windows.” —Ryanair

Window seat seat map Window seat viewWindow in your pocket

 Common complaint #2: Charging for larger carry-ons and for checked baggage.

They call customers who have big luggage “materialistic hoarders.” Egregious layering of clothing to avoid bag check fees is mocked in fashion memes on a regular basis.

Materialistic hoarderPack light


Common complaint #3: Sparse leg room

 Leg room 1Leg room jorts


Common complaint #4: Random seat allocations

“Ryanair random seat allocation is an absolute joke! Our group of seven were all separated. How is this even possible?”

Random RANDOMRandom seat no friends


Common complaint #5: Extra charges


Charge defenders
 Extra charges toiletExtra charges air

Common complaint #6: “I’ll never fly with Ryanair again!”

Despite the complaints and the proclamations of “never again!”, Ryanair understands that the reason people fly with them is that they provide the most affordable option. And ultimately, low cost is their differentiator, with special “sales” that are irresistible to their throngs of customers.

Never again


Common complaint praise #7: Standout social media team

Admin loveAdmin love 2


Not everyone can pull this off

Clearly the “funny brand voice” doesn’t work for most because it’s not part of most brands' DNA. For most of us, this wouldn't work. What does work is keeping your purpose at the heart of what you do, focusing on your core competencies and avoiding pushy content. Social media at its best engages and invites others to partcipate.

Focus on your own authentic brand voice that cultivates and engages customers—and maybe even invites a few haters in to spice things up.

And I didn't forget about...

Taunting other brands?

This is not recommended for most, but of course Ryanair provides some choice examples of this and ties the message back to their own brand. Note that in the first example below, The National Archives drew first blood!

Taunt national archivesTaunt British Museum


And sometimes just taunts for fun:

Taunting Elon


Corgi Photo by Ivana La on Unsplash


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