Dave Caroll was travelling from Chicago to Omaha when he heard his fellow passengers talk about how they saw United Airlines employees carelessly throwing guitars into their plane’s luggage hold. Worried about his own guitar, Caroll started to get nervous. When the plane landed in Omaha, Caroll opened his guitar case, and, sure enough, the $3,500 instrument was damaged far beyond repair. The next day, Caroll filed a formal complaint against United but was told that because he was a few hours late, the airline didn’t owe him any compensation.
Enraged, Caroll spent the next nine months in negotiations with representatives from United, but the airline stood firm on their ruling. Realising he wasn’t getting anywhere, Caroll expressed his anger through song and released a music video called ‘United Breaks Guitars’. One day later, the video had over half a million views, and those numbers continued to rise. Once the video amassed 19.1 million views, United got in touch and told Caroll they would do what they could to make amends. The damage, however, had already been done. United Airlines was in the midst of a PR crisis and Caroll was topping the charts.
Just one month after the song’s release, United’s stock price had fallen by 10%, costing their stockholders $180 million.
The ‘United Breaks Guitars’ incident shows just how impactful one person can be. Caroll ended up causing a PR nightmare for a major American airline – and he was just one man with a guitar. His story is similar to Jeff Jarvis’ experience with Dell. After a series of terrible encounters with the computer company’s customer support, Jarvis started documenting his experience on his blog entitled ‘Dell Hell’. The post resonated with a number of people who shared it within their own circles. Soon, Dell Hell had an audience of hundreds of thousands and the company realised that they had to completely restructure their customer service strategy if they wanted to survive.
It only takes one person to make or break a brand. Rebel entrepreneurs understand this. They never underestimate the impact a single person can have.