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September 14, 2013


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Bradley H. Smith

Right. In my niche, the counterpart to this would be the glitches NASDAQ has had and their lack of communications, legal bunkers and attitude. The scope and costs of the errors are vastly different ( for UA I would thing the actual costs are small in scale to the hassle of angry clients) but at the end of the trail it does just come down to the customer who was affected. Kudos to the CEO at UA to empower his /her eople to this solution.

David Meerman Scott

Bradley - I agree that kudos are in order. And I do think that NASDAQ issues are different than a consumer product like airline tickets.

Sam Douglass

I disagree with your point on one dimension - UA didn't need to "do right" by anyone.

These people should view their free tickets as akin to stealing. Did they really believe they won the free ride lotto for doing nothing? They exploited a glitch and took advantage of UA by snagging up free rides - the people who should feel compelled to "do right" are the ones who took free tickets.

I can't wait until the PR machine says its ok to take from an open register at the gas station just so the company won't be accused of being greedy or leading people on. Ugh.

David Meerman Scott

Sam, I understand what you're saying, but in my opinion, electronic reservations systems are not seen as the same as an open cash register.

A few years ago, I wanted to see a Sly & Robbie show at the House of Blues in Las Vegas. I logged into their site on the day of the show hoping to get tickets and there were two tickets on offer - a "regular" ticket and a "special" ticket. One was about $50 and one was completely free. I didn't know what was going on but selected the free ticket. It was a great show! I did not feel like I was stealing. Apparently in some cases, certain venues make tickets free to fill a room. Venues make money from drinks.

Steve Wellmeier

What I liked about this blog and your re-telling of the story that many of us have seen the past couple of days was your statement, “Branding is about the collective opinions of the public…”

My wife recently shared a story that came up during a branding exercise at the art museum where she manages external affairs, including marketing. Considering Harley-Davidson as an example, the group realized the brand wasn’t the logo or the bike itself, but rather the image of a 50-something, slightly overweight guy with a gray ponytail astride his machine. It’s about the dreams that we aspire to.

So, I’m like you in thinking that United wisely took the long view here – several million or even tens of millions of dollars in lost ticket revenue is a small investment in their decision to turn around and build on their image of trust and engagement with their stakeholders. If they keep it up, they’ll be on their way to being an airline that helps the public reach the destinations of its dreams.

David Meerman Scott

Steve - Great observation on Harley-Davidson. I agree that if UA keeps focus like this, they will slowly build their brand one person at a time.


David - I agree, I don't think electronic reservation systems are seen as the same as an open cash register; but my analogy alludes to a bigger issue.

Brands are taking steps to humanize, they want to engage us, and they want us to engage, they want us to have a deeper relationship. They run the risk of eroding that effort with concessions like the one UA is making.

Example: if you ran a travel agency and your friend was able to snag some free tickets on your e-ticketing system because of a glitch, when you found out about it what would you do? Write it off as your mistake? Or apologize and expect your friend to do right by you?

My point is that UA shouldn't feel the need to "do right" by anyone as, once a mistake is clear (unlike your example above), it should've been on those receiving the free tickets to do right by UA... lest UA help foster a brand relationship akin to a wealthy uncle ripe for plunder.

To humanize brands must give respect, and should expect respect in return.


Xavier Badia

Great post! like it!

Attached link to a very interesting Marketing group at Linkedin (if you're interested):


Arlen Miller

Go United! We're appreciating their decision right here right now. I have a new appreciation for United. They're showing that they're human after all. :)

Sondra Sims-Taylor

I understand their point. When things dehumanize the masses of crowds take over before real rules take effect. If there errors there are crowds doing them. Some don't have time to apologize when they should take time to.


Wow. That is a major snafu. I would hope they honor the deal even though it was just a "glich". I'm sure their IT department got a major reaming though.

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