Thursday, July 9, 2009

(Updated July 30, 2009) United Breaks Guitars - Negative Publicity

Twenty-four days after Dave Carroll uploaded his humorous UNITED BREAKS GUITARS video to YouTube (July 6, 2009), the video has had 4,467,537 views on YouTube, with a stunning 19,947 comments that are fuelling negative publicity for United Airlines. Around the world, people continue to smile and give approving nods to the viral YouTube video, United Breaks Guitars, a ballad of Dave Carroll’s year-long struggle, (to no avail), to get compensation from United Airlines for the $1,200 damage it inflicted on his Taylor acoustic guitar worth $3,200. Over a year later, and after numerous discussions with United Airlines, their refusal to give him any form of compensation, (despite admitting to damaging the guitar), prompted the musician to tell his story by writing 3 songs on the incident and posting detailed information on his website. This is all stirring up negative publicity for United Airlines, even three weeks after the initial video was uploaded to YouTube.

United Breaks Guitars is the first of these songs which uses the following catchy chorus to engage listeners and drum up this negative publicity:

Chorus United Breaks Guitars

United, United, you broke my Taylor guitar.
United, United, some big help you are!
You broke it, you should fix it,
You’re liable - just admit it.
I should have flown with someone else ... or gone by car,
'Cause United breaks guitars.

The negative publicity for United Airlines directly corresponds to the airline not responding immediately to the United Breaks Guitars YouTube video, and ignoring the power of social media to spread negative publicity. Social media is a powerful communication tool used by many companies to monitor and respond to negative publicity sent out through media tools such as Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and YouTube. Negative publicity continues to grow for the airline with extensive news coverage on the viral video. The United Breaks Guitars story has been covered by major Internet bloggers around the world such as the Huffington Post and Mashable, and is spreading through links on Twitter. It has been reported by the mainstream press in newspapers, magazines, and the broadcast media, including CNN and BBC World News Americas. It has been covered by the main US and Canadian TV networks including CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, CBC, CTV, and Global. A number of analytical business articles on the United Breaks Guitars incident are also circulating in business circles and creating even more negative publicity for United Airlines. An example can be seen in this scathing press release from Thomas Hinton, President & CEO, American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with nearly 90,000 members in the US. It analyzes United Airlines' approach to this situation, taking them to task on their customer service procedures in general,,200927885.aspx.

Here is the latest update on the incident. Week one saw an explosion of press coverage for the United Breaks Guitars video and considerable negative publicity for United Airlines as the video went viral on the Internet. The video and incident were discussed on social media sites such as YouTube and Twitter, while they made the rounds of the blogs and mainstream press in Canada and the US, particularly after exposure on CNN's The Situation Room which is broadcast around the world. Week one also saw the response from United Airlines, (post negative publicity), offering to pay for the $1,200 in damages and give Dave Carroll another $1,200 in travel vouchers. Dave Carroll asked United Airlines to instead contribute the money to charity. United Airlines donated $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, one of the participants in the June 2009 White House Music Series focusing on music education for children.

In the second week since the YouTube upload of the United Breaks Guitars video, the chatter in the mainstream Canadian and US press somewhat subsided but the negative publicity started to take-off in the music press, still gathering momentum in the social media venues such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, while appearing in more and more blog posts. The United Breaks Guitars story also started to spread considerably outside of North America with the negative publicity for United Airlines continuing as people awaited the second in the trilogy of songs on the incident, as promised by Dave Carroll. On-line coverage during the second week extended into the music scene with well respected Rolling Stone magazine, (July 13, 2009,, and into the podcast arena with interviews in far flung places such as Australia with Tony Goodson. This Tony Goodson podcast is truly worth listening to as he talks directly to Dave Carroll who, in a soft spoken manner, speaks to his music, the writing of the United Breaks Guitars song, the making of the video, and the social media coup for himself as a solo artist and for the SONS OF MAXWELL, a relatively unknown Canadian music group with which he plays, (July 16, 2009, ).

In the third week since United Breaks Guitars went viral, the media coverage and negative publicity has picked up again with Dave Carroll, the singer-song writer, participating in radio and TV interviews around the world. This third week alone sees TV coverage on BBC World News Americas, many articles in the UK press, and further TV interviews with Dave Carroll on the major US networks - ABC, NBC, CNN, and Fox. The result for Dave Carroll is positive. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Dave Carrol mentioned that since the upload of his United Breaks Guitars video on YouTube, his website has enjoyed over 50,000 hits compared an average of 40-50 in previous weeks. He is thrilled people are enjoying his music which is increasing in sales from 1-2 sales per day to hundreds. This week his song, United Breaks Guitars, has made the top 20 list of iTunes downloads in Canada and yesterday, after 8 TV and radio interviews in the UK, United Breaks Guitars was the #1 country music iTunes download in the UK. As we await the second song in the trilogy of the United Breaks Guitars incident, Dave Carroll tells us that his second song is better than the first, and has been played at his live concerts to warm reviews. The second song is unlike the first in that it does not follow a country-western beat. We should be seeing it soon on YouTube - the recording date for the video is August 4, 2009 and we should be seeing it soon after it has been edited.

Companies need to understand the new reality - the transparency and the microscope social media now bring to the equation. Tech savvy consumers now have the means and capability to easily spread messages that can influence public opinion and spread negative publicity. Although United Airlines responded to the United Breaks Guitars viral video, (post-negative publicity), no heart-felt apology hit the airways in a substantial manner. Where is their heart-felt YouTube apology? And so the negative publicity continues to spread through the blogosphere, Twittersphere, and mainstream media around the world.

Other recent social media incidents point to how companies such as United Airlines can deal with social media incidences in a more positive manner to avoid the escalation of negative public relations. The first example that comes to mind is the Dominos Pizza incident where employees thought it was funny to upload a YouTube video showing false unsanitary food practices while preparing Dominos pizzas. Dominos Pizza responded immediately with press releases and video messages uploaded to YouTube to minimize the negative fallout of the video. The second example that comes to mind is for the pain reliever Motrin which faced a social media backlash from the so-called Motrin moms who unleashed a negative social media campaign against Motrin. They used Twitter, blogs, and YouTube to express their anger at a Motrin ad they considered insulting to mothers. Motrin's manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson responded immediately by pulling the ad, not seeing the benefit in alienating their customers.

Below, you can follow the United guitar story on Dave Carroll's website at . You can also see the UNITED BREAKS GUITARS video, CNN news coverage of the incident, the Dominos Pizza YouTube social media company response, the controversial Motrin ad, and the negative YouTube campaign inflicted by Motrin Mothers. Companies need to respond fast and honestly, and to respond through the media that is fuelling the negative publicity which, in these incidences, also includes social media. For a November 2009 update where you can see the second song, please click on the following link see the trilogy of song visit

United Breaks Guitars Video

CNN News Coverage – United Breaks Guitars

Dominos Response - Company President

Motrin Mom Baby Wearing Ad

Motrin Ad Makes Moms Mad

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Tony Goodson said...

Hi Christina,
Thanks for the comment on my blog. It gladdens my heart, because that's exactly why I'm doing the interviews with people like Dave, because I'm curious about the wider picture of their lives, before, during, and after, and I've had some great feedback from Dave, after the interview.

Note how I didn't ask a single United Airlines question!

jacob said...

I have always been curious about functionality in websites and, well, the world in general. I read this article with great interest. It does seem to me that the reason we comment is to speak our minds so why not have the comment field first? However, as others have pointed out, one gets used to the conventions regardless of reason.
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