You broke my guitar. I broke your brand and launched my career.

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[tweetmeme] When Southwest Airlines broke Dave Carroll‘s guitar they ignored the fact that we’re in the era of the friction-free social web, where consumer conversations happen whether you want them to or not.

Dave Carroll – the lead singer with Canadian band Sons of Maxwell – has taken on United Airlines with a music video, “United Breaks Guitars”.

His $3500 710 Taylor guitar was severely damaged in March 2008, by United Airlines baggage handlers at Chicago. Carroll’s attempts to get any compensation from United Airlines have been met with passing of responsibility, denial of responsibility and passive resistance.

Consumer’s control

Simply ignoring the four marketing ‘C’s of community, co-creation, customisation, and conversation won’t make them go away. And it’s not a case of community pestering big business like in the good old days: Consumers have a lot of control now.

Sing if you’re winning

The song has received well over 4 million hits since being posted on YouTube and is now available on iTunes. I think Carroll would admit this has been a massive boost to his career, and rather damaging one for United Airlines.

Screwed the pooch

Chris Ayres of The Times Online (UK) claims the Carroll mishap actually cost United $180 million, or 10 percent of its market cap:

“..within four days of the song going online, the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airlines’ stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall, and it plunged by 10 per cent, costing shareholders $180 million. Which, incidentally, would have bought Carroll more than 51,000 replacement guitars.”

One commentator joked there’s some kind of investor strategy here involving YouTube arbitrage.

Southwest Airlines – always one for innovation – have a satisfied customer who’s countered with the rather low-key Southwest Never Broke My Guitar song. Not great, but they’ve earned the right to stand alongside consumers and chuckle at United’s mistake.


Fix it

Are there any upsides to the friction-free social web? And are any sustainable players in the game? Do brands that are doing good have any place?

Hybrid marketing

You ask, they answer is a collaboration by The Guardian Online (UK) and Toyota in which Toyota will do its best to answer any question posted by Guardian readers.

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The tie-up runs until Saturday when the new Prius goes on sale in the UK. And there will be negative comments in there – maybe more than is truly representative because irritated consumers tend to be more energetic than content ones (obvious, no?). At first glance it seems like a brave position for Toyota to take, but as we’ve seen, consumers are having these conversations with each other anyway.

This is your chance to grill the Japanese car-maker on its attitude to green motoring. Got a question about the new Prius and its solar-powered air-conditioning? Wondering how Toyota reconciles its low-emission cars with its 4×4 Land Cruisers, which have been blamed for worldwide dust storms? Or do you want to know about the company’s plans for electric cars, hydrogen vehicles and other green cars of the future?

As Toyota show, it doesn’t matter whether the conversation with the consumer is going your way or not, matters is it’s all public. Even the private stuff: In a friction-free social space anyone can tell everyone in a heart beat. United tried to block it: If only someone had spoken to Nike*, or Toyota.

*(Nike learns about friction-free social media the hard way a long time ago with the ’sweatshop’ decal fiasco).

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