Sign In

David vs. Goliath: The Power of 1 Unhappy Customer

Last updated 7 years ago

"My God, they're throwing guitars out there," said a woman in a window seat as passengers on a United Airlines flight wanted to deplane in Chicago on March 31, 2008 writes David Meerman Scott in Real-Time Marketing & PR.

Unfortunately, singer-songwriter Dave Carroll and fellow band members of Sons of Maxwell knew exactly whose guitars were being chucked so carelessly by the United baggage handlers. The band members told the flight crew what they had seen but were just referred elsewhere and back and forth. Sure enough though, when Dave opened his hard-shell case upon arrival at Omaha he discovered that his $3,500 Taylor guitar had been smashed.

For months Dave went back and forth phoning and emailing United in pursuit of $1,200 to cover the cost of repairs. Repeatedly United refused to take responsibility for the damage and finally after nine futile months Dave received a flat "no." No, he would not receive even a penny from United in terms of compensation.

Now if you're wondering what this may have to do with your business or how a musicians broken guitar could even possibly relate to your business, I first implore you to watch Dave's video below then resume reading to really learn the full power of 1 unhappy customer.

"It occured to me I'd been fighting a losing battle all this time," Dave tells Scott. "I got sucked into their cycle of insanity. I called and emailed and jumped through hoops, just as they told me to do. The system is designed to frustrate customers into giving up their claims, and United is very good at it. However, I realized that, as a musician, I wasn't without options. So when I finally got the 'no,' I said 'I urge you to reconsider, because I'm a singer-songwriter and I'm going to write three songs about United Airlines and post them on YouTube."

On July 6, 2009, Dave made good on his promise posting the 1st of the three videos entitled "United Breaks Guitars." (see video above)

In just the first 5 days, up to 100 bloggers a DAY alerted their readers to the video. This video immediately become a real-time viral video phenomenon. And it only grew in intensity as Dave spoke with multiple media outlets the first few days the video was posted.

Here's how quick this video spread:

  • 2 days after post - 25,000 views
  • 3 days after post - 200,000 views
  • 4 days after post - 1 million views
  • 6 days after post - 2 million views
  • September 6, 2011 (2 years later) - 10,828,050 views

And what was United's reaction to this? In public, United did absolutely nothing. The corporate website offered no explanation, there was no official statement to the media nor was there any comments to the many blogs that discussed the video. As Scott says, "by failing to do so, United missed a huge opportunity to dampen and deflect criticism before it snowballed - and a chance to present a sympathetic human face to its customers...United chose silence." Behind the scenes United did try to make amends to Dave but it was too late.

Now let me ask you this: after reading this, would you fly United?

What can we learn from a Dave versus Goliath contest in which one irate Canadian musician utterly and completely whips one of the largest marketing and customer-service operations in the United States (Scott)?

That no matter how big your marketing budget may be, the rules of the game have changed. Your customers can easily become the voice of your brand. This illustrates the power that consumers now have over brands and the importance of providing exceptional customer service and immediately remedying any wrongs. Don't be like United. Learn from this example so your business doesn't suffer the same fate.

As commented above, if each of those 10 million plus views never flew United again, at a $250 ticket price, United would have lost about $2,684,471,250. Can your business afford this type of loss?

How do you think you would have reacted to a video such as Dave Carroll's? What actions do you think United should have taken?


To read more about this story or about Real-Time Marketing & PR check out David Meerman Scott's book Real-Time Marketing & PR.

Photos courtesy of: &


  • Loading comments... Spinner

Mashable Award Badge

  • Hours:

  • 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Monday
  • 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Tuesday
  • 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Wednesday
  • 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Thursday
  • 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Friday


  • Recent Posts
    • Loading posts... Spinner
  • View All
  • Recent Comments
    • Loading comments... Spinner
  • Related Links
  • Popular Tags
    • Loading tags... Spinner