United: good PR and bad PR

July 25, 2009

Well, you get the idea what happened to the Canadian C&W guy, Dave Carroll, that day at O’Hare airport.

His video went viral, got 3.6million viewers on YouTube, and has so far cost United Airline shareholders $180 million. That’s a share price drop of 10%. On top of the recession!

Now, here is a guy who gets the upshot on marketing, branding, and viral communications. He just went for it. Note the number of times he repeats the word “United” in his video; he has made his message very, very clear and he has driven it implacably home! It’s a message the public was very ready to hear, too. It’s a kind of masterful, beautiful thing.

In fact, his PR capability seems to be better in this case than United Airlines’. So this is really two stories in one: the Good Story, about how Dave Carroll triumphed, and the Bad Story of how United messed up.

The Times reports:

The airline’s belated decision to donate $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz as a gesture of goodwill (Carroll said he was beyond the point of accepting money) did nothing to contain the damage.

In a way, of course, United (and Ms Irlweg) just got very, very unlucky. United Breaks Guitars is as catchy as the video is hilarious, and Carroll is the kind of ruffled, likeable, almost-handsome everyman who could star in his own Hollywood romantic comedy.

But while the song and video are good-natured, the response from the airline-weary public hasn’t been quite as gracious, to the point where poor old Ms Irlweg has become as emblematic of America’s corporate malaise as the villains at AIG, General Motors and Madoff Securities.

If you’re doing any marketing or PR at all, let both of these stories be lessons to you.


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