Meet the new Chief Marketing Officer of United Airlines – Dave Carroll. He sings and plays a guitar!

All Canadians rejoice! The new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of United Airlines is one of your own. He’s none other than Dave Carroll. His music video entitled “United Breaks Guitars” (watch below) is approaching three million views in just one week of being uploaded on Youtube. This is more than five times the total views of all of United Airlines’ advertisements since 1984 on Youtube!

Why do I call Dave the new CMO of the airline? Simply, because he has more power to communicate something about United’s brand experience than anyone in their corporate offices. And people relate to his experience much more than the airline’s advertisements featuring sea creatures.

The accidental spokesperson

The legend goes that (yes…it’s a legend already) on a flight from Halifax, Canada to Nebraska, Omaha, Dave’s Taylor guitar worth $3500 was badly damaged by baggage handlers in Chicago – an act Dave and his fellow passengers witnessed. After almost a year of chasing United Airlines for a compensation in vain, this is what Dave concluded:

At that moment it occurred to me that I had been fighting a losing battle all this time and that fighting over this at all was a waste of time. The system is designed to frustrate affected customers into giving up their claims and United is very good at it.

However I realized then that as a songwriter and traveling musician I wasn’t without options. In my final reply to Ms. Irlweg I told her that I would be writing three songs about United Airlines and my experience in the whole matter. I would then make videos for these songs and offer them for free download online, inviting viewers to vote on their favourite United song. My goal: to get one million hits in one year.

Looks like Dave has accomplished much more in just one week, than what he intended to do in a year. Moreover, after about 50,000 views of the video, United Airlines contacted Dave and agreed to compensate him for the damage.

Three thoughts on United Airline’s response

Despite all the buzz on social media, I didn’t know whether United had compensated Dave, until he himself posted a video statement talking about the offer of compensation and requested United to donate it to charity instead. How nice of him. But I have three lingering thoughts.

  1. Why did United make an exception to their compensation rules only now, if it couldn’t be done earlier?
  2. If this was indeed a mistake on United’s part, then what about all those seeking compensation who can’t sing as well as Dave? Will exceptions be made to compensate them too?
  3. Why didn’t United respond using the same medium as Dave – social media?

An apology on Youtube in response to Dave’s video and an explanation of the matter would have saved United further blushes. Surprisingly, that didn’t happen. This, despite the fact that United has its own Youtube channel, and a strong Twitter presence with over 16,000 followers. Imagine the pain of the poor chap manning the Twitter feed these days, replying individually to hundreds of people asking him what United is doing about this.

What’s the point of putting out special fares on Twitter and uploading advertisements on Youtube, when obvious actions like these cannot be taken? I know they’re new in this game and are still learning, but this was an obvious opportunity to embrace the accidental spokesperson and turn the tide in their favor. If JetBlue could do it two years ago, why can’t United try it now? And it’s still not too late. Dave is going to appear on more than ten primetime news shows in the next couple of days.

Let’ see whether United responds on social media at all on this issue. Afterall, that’s the purpose of the medium – to have conversations and respond to them, rather than using it like a broadcast medium.

Meanwhile, enjoy Mr CMO’s claim to fame.

How do you think United could have better dealt with this situation? Through a Youtube response? Or by never allowing this to happen? What would you have done if you were working for United’s customer service dept? Let’s discuss in the comments or over on Twitter (@simpliflying)

Update (16 July): I’ve learnt from a number of people who’ve contacted me directly about this article that United has responded on Twitter on this issue and is answering questions personally. Even my request on Twitter was answered.

Here’s what Benet Wilson from Aviation Week wrote: To its credit, United Airlines saw the error of its ways and is now trying to resolve the situation.  And @UnitedAirlines was on Twitter explaining to its 15,603 followers on what it’s doing for the guitarist and offering an apology. On a side note, I really like the guy who handles United’s Twitter account. I hear he’s an intern that is leaving in the fall, so I hope United will find someone else to keep up the conversation.

Looks like they’re trying. But I still feel a response on Youtube would have been more apt, and saved this Twittering intern at United a few hundred replies =)

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