By now you’ve heard. US Airways let out a pornographic pic on their Twitter feed. It was a woman retrofitting the function of a model airplane in (debatably) creative fashion. In other words, she stuck it in her vagina. Who the woman is and how the picture hit the Twitterverse are of little concern to me, and you can go find it on Google easily if you wish. What struck me later—I’d say immediately, but when you’re met by a picture of a dildo-fied airplane in use, thoughtful analysis isn’t a natural response—is that the democratization of information sharing has actually created a meritocracy to corporate branding that we should be thankful for.
Brands used to be big. And technically, by most forms of economic and cultural currency, they still are. For example, Coca-Cola has roughly the same number of Twitter followers (but a lot more money) as Chris Rock. But Brands used to be unknowably big. They were more abstract concepts like the weight of a galaxy or the size of the national debt. Whatever anonymous Don Draper fed you the idea that McDonald’s beats Mom’s cooking in any language was shielded by the time and process of the ancient ad mediums. Everything came out big and slow and crafted, so everything came out planned, double-checked and safe.
I don’t know what it’s like to be in the brainstorming sessions of Wieden + Kennedy’s creative brass, breaking down a marketing mix with the breadth of target countries and the granularity of specified font kerning. But I know how to use a Twitter account. And I know that every company has someone doing that for them. I also know that the chances are good that the person is a sub-30’s hipster who needs to infuse a little sass and personality to give their brand a noteworthy voice in the ongoing B2C conversations. Basically, the daily mouthpiece of a brand’s most volatile interactive platform is just a regular human being. Mistakes happen. Because we are all this person, we can all allow it.
Does this forgive the digital parceling of a particularly intrepid model airplane? Nope. Not by a longshot. The absolute best-case scenario is a hacked account, otherwise someone deserves to be fired. I can’t help but believe that 20 years ago this would have stunted US Airways in a very severe way. Knowing less makes each bit of information more vital to the brand’s consumers. Now we know so much, that we can’t possibly blame the whole company. When I fly to San Diego next month, if US Airways has the best deal, I’ll still fly with them, using this marketing snafu only as an odd conversation piece. The internet has given companies enough rope to hang themselves with, sure. But the declining impact of errors makes me believe that the new rope is too thin to hold a brand’s weight. And unlike that model airplane, US Airways is going to land safely.
It’s a little tight here,
Dusty “Flies Coach” Riedesel