I’ve only recently become aware of the story that broke in July about United Airlines, a broken guitar, a YouTube hit. (Thanks James)

If you missed the story, United Airlines passenger Dave Carroll had his $3,500 Taylor guitar destroyed by the airline’s baggage handlers during a flight last year. After United repeatedly declined to reimburse him for the damage, he wrote a now-famous song decrying their customer service and their brand. It was very funny, clever and completely justified.

Within 4 days of the song going live, millions of people had watched the brand-bashing video and United’s stock price has dropped 10%: It’s unlikely that the video caused the drop. It had been dropping along with other airline stock for many months.

However, as I write, over 5.7m people have watched the original video on YouTube and it has spawned 686 copycat videos … all derogatory. If you search Google for “United Airlines” the damaging video is in the first page of results and top of the video results.

It’s difficult to agree with Chris Ayres’ suggestion that the video alone cost United $180m (10% of its market cap) but it’s clearly not an outcome that United would have wished for.

Flip this over and look at the Sony Bravia TV commercial that showed 250,000 coloured balls bouncing down the streets of San Francisco. Over 4m people have “chosen” to watch it on YouTube over the last 3 years and 500,000 have watched the “making” of the commercial. For a while back there it was the most “remembered” TV commercial in the US. But it was never broadcast in the States. Everyone was watching it on YouTube. It was a viral success and free of charge.

What a difference. Equally impactful, both positively and negatively. Do you have any other illuminating case studies?


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