Squeaky wheels have always gotten the grease and a high quality music video can sure amplify the squeaks. The video for United Breaks Guitars was produced by Curve Productions in Halifax, another company over the moon with the joy of all this free publicity. “Proud to be on BBC”, says their Twitter page.
It’s not known if Curve sent a bill to Dave Carroll for the very slick video about the United Airlines mistreatment of his expensive guitar but the production company sure has received a lot of promotional capital from the video.
For his part, Carroll got two free Taylor guitars and convinced United to donate $3,000 to charity. Oh and 2.6 million people viewed his YouTube video and he got free publicity on news outlets around the world, including Rolling Stone magazine.
Lara Cassidy, the producer/director at Curve, blogs that a basic three minute music video, shot in one day would cost about $28,000. This one was more complicated with multiple locations, sets and actors. I’d double that figure.
So please, let’s not trump United Breaks Guitars as a victory for the little guy. Little guys don’t have access to fancy production studios that can be used to embarrass the big bad companies that mess around with us. Musicians and journalists are among the few that have that power. The favourite phrase of a reporter friend of mine is “Don’t they know who I think I am.” And she says it only partially in jest.
United blundered by letting the singer’s complaint drag on before finally refusing any compensation. But some are arguing that Carroll didn’t deserve any compensation.
Although he expressed grave concern about his guitar when the plane took off, he didn’t even bother to check it when he landed and at least a day passed before he actually opened up the case and noticed the guitar’s damage. When he filed his complaint with United, he refused their requests to inspect the damage. For more on that point of view, see this blog.
But let’s look at how all this affects United Airlines. As a PR crisis it’s pretty minor for two reasons. First of all, people think all airlines do a crappy job of handling luggage so it doesn’t really come as much of a shock. United ranks 10th on the list of 19 airlines in the US for baggage handling, pretty much in the middle of the pack. Yes people complain about abused luggage but it is almost accepted as a fact of life if you travel much.
Secondly, if you want to go to Chicago or certain other destinations, you’re going to have to fly United. I really don’t think anyone’s going to cancel their trip to see Aunt Millie so they can show solidarity for a Halifax musician who has now been fairly dealt with and who actually profited nicely from the whole deal.
But here’s where United Airlines also has a chance to profit from the situation. Now that the world’s eyes are on them, the company needs to instigate a new corporate strategy – something like Ford did with “Quality is Job One”. They need a corporate commitment to treat baggage as if it were their own.
United has a unique opportunity to be seen to be fixing a problem that will continue to reside with every other airline. The fix would have to be real, of course, and would need to engage both union and management leaders in an overhaul of procedures and attitudes but the result could make the airline’s reputation better than ever.
Oh, and one other suggestion for United Airlines – Hire Dave Carroll to do your TV ads. Sometimes, everybody can win.