United Breaks Guitars


The “United Breaks Guitars” is… hilarious. What a clever and fun way of expressing an issue! I am sure it caught United’s attention. The combination of his musical prowess, access to the means to create such a video, and his following really took this video to the next viral level. While all of those attributed to its creation and success, United could have handled things in a very different way to minimize the damage and turn the situation into an opportunity.

The effects of the video were compounded by United’s lack of social media presence at the time, and by their request for the video to be removed (Social Media 101: never delete negative feedback!). At that point, the video was a huge internet success and was not going anywhere.

Here are some of my ideas on how United could have managed the situation more efficiently:

1. Beef up the social media presence and work with customers to meet their needs. United apparently has a 24 hour window limit in which customers can report any dissatisfaction or issues. This seems to be an oddly small time frame. Sometimes our travel adventures last more than 24 hours (and that’s just time spent in airports and on planes). Sometimes our travels take us to places where internet is spotty and phone calls are expensive. Sometimes we just want to enjoy our vacations without spending a large amount of time on hold with customer service, etc. If United really wanted to appease customers and right their wrongs, then the 24-hour window would not be in place.

2. Use the video to their advantage. Despite the bad press of the video, it truly is clever, funny, and entertaining. United could make their own video parody of Carroll’s video, work the song into a new jingle for a commercial, or even hire Carroll to write another song for them/star in a commercial. Make amends with the guitar owners and explain the brand’s point of view and policies on these matters.

3. Make amends in a big way. From a PR standpoint, United could have done something really meaningful. For example: donate 100 new guitars to music centers for children, etc.

In general, I think that United could have handled the situation with a little more grace and a little more “human”. The situation, though clearly not ideal, was something that could be managed in a way that would have been positive for the company.


4 thoughts on “United Breaks Guitars

  1. I think the ethical thing to do IS to respond. Not responding to any comment, whether it be a Facebook post, email, or music video, seems to be the unethical thing to do. Unfortunately, United is in a position where they are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. In other words, the damage is done, all they can do is try to control it and make the best of the situation. I think making a grand gesture either to charity, or something of the like, has very grand ethical implications. IE: We care, we understand the importance of music, and we want to make this right.

  2. Great post Lesley! I was actually unaware of that window of time policy and I agree that it should probably be changed. That being said, I don’t think we see a lot of airline policies change to benefit the customer, so I’m not really going to hold my breath. I also found your idea of donating 100 guitars to be interesting. In my response, I mentioned that trying to be creative May not be a very good idea because it could just “dig them in deeper,” but I kind of like your idea, especially when paired with your comment about being damned if they do or damned if they don’t…. So why not? Great post, thanks for getting me to consider changing my mind!

    1. I agree it’s unlikely for airlines to make real changes to benefit the customer. I’m not sure there is a perfect response to the issue. I do feel strongly that any response is better than none. Thanks for the feedback!

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