Tag Archives: social movement marketing

Social Media PR Disasters: “United Breaks Guitars”

Social media has given brands unprecedented access to its customers, but we may forget that the customers also have access to those same communication tools and are able to broadcast their messages to the world.

Sometimes those messages are critical of a company. How do brands respond? Over the next few months, I’ll look at the way brands have missed, or exploited, opportunities for good publicity. This week, we’ll see what happens when a little-known musician takes on a major airline.
The Brand
United Airlines
The Incident
In 2008, on a United Airlines flight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, the Sons of Maxwell, a rock group led by David Carroll, witnessed baggage handlers throwing their guitars on the tarmac. When Carroll arrived at his destination, he found that his $3,5000 Taylor guitar had been broken. Carroll pursued compensation from United for nine months, but the company never took responsibility and ultimately denied his claim.
The Problem
Carroll wrote a song about the incident and posted the music video on YouTube. After three days, it had received over 500,000 views. (It currently has over 10 million). The song became a hit on iTunes as well. Carroll promised that two more songs about United’s poor customer service were on the way.
The Response
After just 18 hours, United began offering apologies through Twitter. However, the airline’s Facebook Page made no mention of the incident, and the Page’s press release tab, an obvious platform for communicating the company’s official response, provided no additional information. The United Airlines YouTube channel quickly filled up with negative comments, which the airline neither replied to nor removed. Eventually, the airline made amends by donating $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute (at Carroll’s request), but that action didn’t indicate an improvement in baggage handling or a change of policies.
The Result
Carroll’s second song, a faux love ballad for a United customer service rep, was less successful but still a modest hit. His third song, in which Carroll describes being contact by other passengers who had had poor experiences with United, was more conciliatory. Carroll eventually began giving speeches on customer service to corporations around the country. He even flew United again – though on a flight to Denver to give a presentation, the airline lost his luggage. And Social Media Today, following an analysis of the story, concluded that “United Airlines did follow the first rule of crisis communications by apologizing and trying to make amends.  It’s their failure to leverage and integrate their online channels that is at issue.”
The Takeaway
So what are the lessons from “United Breaks Guitars”?
Drive people to your own turf. United had the platforms to control the flow of information, but neglected its own Facebook Page and YouTube channel, letting critics take over.
Respond immediately. How many views must a critical video get before a company responds? Carroll’s song became popular so quickly that many companies would have struggled to keep up. But United had at least some of response before two days had passed.
If necessary, make the change: Look at how Delta changed its baggage policy for military personnel after an Army reservist posted a video about having to pay a fee to check a fourth bag on a flight home from Afghanistan. Other airlines quickly eliminated their own fee. The entire story took only a few days to be resolved.
As “United Breaks Guitars” shows, while great customer service rarely stays with us, bad customer service drives people to vent their frustrations online. Some of the most vicious – and popular – content on the internet involves consumers taking their revenge against brands that have wronged them. But brands can swing public opinion back in their favor by acting with speed, grace, and humility.

A Brand, A Blindfold, A Birthday and The Bottom Line. Coke Turns 125

Valued at more than $70 billion, Coca-Cola’s brand is ranked # 1 in the world. Its nearest competitor by category, Pepsi, is not next in line, not even in the top 10. They’re a whole 23 steps away, worth only a mere $14 bil and change. Yet since 1975 when The Pepsi Challenge blind taste tasting events began, consumer preference trended towards Pepsi.

What’s up with that?

First, lets take a quick look at the difference in branding- the emotional connection consumers have with both.

What do you think about when you think Coke?
Maybe it’s Santa Clause. Maybe it’s Norman Rockwell. Coke credits their advertising with creating the modern image of big Nick himself. Or how about diversity- and the beautiful commercials about teaching the Whole World to Sing, that had America humming.

Now think Pepsi
Maybe Madonna comes to mind. Or Michael Jackson’s hair catching on fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial.

Or maybe I’m too old.

Let’s go social to see how the two companies use the social network differently. 
Pepsi’s Facebook page looks downright sparse compared to Coke’s two dozen features.

Some Stats

Who Created the Page
Coke: Two fans, who were given a tour of the headquarters in Atlanta and whose video of the trip is prominently displayed on the site.
Pepsi: The PepsiCo marketing department.

Immediate Call to “Like” the Site
Coke: “Like Coke? There’s a button for that.”

Number of “Likes”
Coke: 24.6 million
Pepsi: 3.8 million

Number of Photos
Coke: 13, 319
Pepsi: 1,774

A Social Media Gaffe?

The Pepsi Refresh project, with a promise of $20 million in donations for “refreshing ideas that change the world,” is being revamped though the response was spectacular: 80 million votes registered; 60,000 followers on Twitter; 4 million “likes” on Facebook.

Only one problem- many voters and grant winners say they don’t generally buy soda. Perhaps that explains why last month the Wall Street Journal reported that both Pepsi and Diet Pepsi had each lost about 5% of their market share over the past 12 months in the US.

The bottom line is that after 125 years in business, the future still looks bright for Coca-Cola. That’s because no one buys soda with a blindfold on.

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I’m thrilled to introduce a special guest posting this week from writer and advertising illuminato Terry Selucky. Her work has been featured throughout the NY lit scene, most recently in New York Magazine. Below Terry shares insights into a new social media branding tool called Udorse. It’s a creative attempt to help brands leverage word-of-mouth in creating a movement. It’s a thought-provoking way of putting the onus on consumers to propel your movement.

In 1994, when NPR’s All Things Considered broadcast an April Fool’s Day segment stating that corporations such as Pepsi, KFC, Apple and Gap would give a lifetime 10% discount to any teenager who would tattoo his or her ear with a corporate logo, droves of young people called in to find out how they could sign up. Those who knew better laughed.

But 15 years after the hoax, as we’re just beginning to settle into the digital age, Udorse.com has created the social media equivalent of a tattooed ear. By tagging certain items on photos throughout personal pages online, an individual can share favorite brands and, when tagging Udorse’s partners, earn money with each Udorsement. The tagger has the option to either donate his or her reward earnings to a favorite charity or have them deposited directly into a PayPal account.

Udorse.com, a company backed by Founders Fund and featured at TechCrunch50, is a direct response to the individual’s increasing desire—and ability—to ignore traditional advertising. DVR has allowed viewers to skip TV spots; pop-up blockers prohibit unwanted messages. Now, more than ever, consumers are filtering through the flotsam to get to products that are useful, sexy and recommended by someone they trust. But will Udorse catch on with advertising-elusive, tech-savvy consumers?

Probably not the way the company envisions, or hopes. Udorse claims to “empower each of us to endorse the items and places in our photos that we want to help support, and share with our friends.” That’s true, and well-spun. And Gen X may try it out, but while many successful brands are proudly touted as part of one’s identity, Gen Y is too skeptical to buy into a program that could so easily be seen as “selling out.”

It’s a logical leap forward in consumer-driven advertising, but it will only survive if people find it useful—or if advertisers find it profitable. Most likely, other companies are going to create better, more palatable versions of the same idea. And in the meantime, finding the function and form of your company remains top priority.