Air New Zealand might be celebrated as one of the most reputable brands across both sides of the Tasman, but NZ First's Shane Jones warns that the company's activities in the regions of Aotearoa could threaten its esteemed reputation.
The remarks from the Minister for Regional Economic Development come after Air New Zealand was listed as the second most reputable brand in New Zealand and the most reputable in Australia on the respective annual Corporate Reputation Indexes.
Jones didn't find the results of the index surprising, saying that his experiences with the airline's frontline staff have always been excellent.
The politician, who has been highly critical of Air New Zealand following the airline's decision to pull its Kapiti service, did, however, add that the national carrier should take care not to alienate the regions, which play such an important role in the imagery often used in the branding.
Jones said the truly iconic New Zealand imagery – the landscapes and the cultural heritage – almost always comes from the regions.
"You can't tap into that resource unless you've been good to the little guys in the region," Jones said.
Air New Zealand had a successful brand now, however, it could run into trouble in the longer term if New Zealanders started to question its use of regional imagery, he said.
"Brands are not static," he said, "and Air New Zealand might face challenges in the future."
Jones also didn't find it entirely surprising that Air New Zealand had performed so well in Australia, pointing out that the competition, particularly among airlines, left a lot to be desired.
Commenting on his criticism of Air New Zealand, Jones argued that his remarks weren't harming the reputation of the Air New Zealand brand but actually helping it in the sense that they point out the importance of the regions to local brands.
"It's not only about the big end of town," he said.
There is, of course, more to brand building than aesthetics, and branding expert Andrew Barron told the Herald the strength of the brand lies in its underlying strategy.
"They recognise the power of a brand and drive it through all aspects of their business," said Barron, who works as the managing director of Interbrand.
"The airline industry is incredibly competitive, with so many brands that at the end of the day do very similar things, and Air New Zealand has recognised that the key to success is standing out from the pack in a way that is attention-grabbing, coherent and positive."
Barron said this is particularly evident in its activities across the ditch, which has included a number of big-budget campaigns speaking directly to Australians.
"Air New Zealand has a conscious strategy to speak plainly and effectively to different target audiences, which has enabled them to win over Australians," he said.
"Australians also love a battler, and they see that in Air New Zealand."