United Breaks Guitars

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The protest song "United Breaks Guitars," written by Dave Carroll and his band Sons of Maxwell, is an example of how social media has a significant impact on culture (O'Byrne, 2011). It tells the true story of how his guitar was mishandled by United Airlines on a flight in 2008. He received a negative response from the airline employees who gave him a year of deafness. The song was launched on July 6, 2009, and it quickly became a hit on YouTube and iTunes, embarrassing the airline in front of the public.

While under United Airlines' care, the musician's guitar was ruined. Fellow passengers exclaimed the mishandling of luggage by baggage handlers at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on his flight to Omaha Nebraska. On reaching his final destination, he realized that his $3,500 Tylor made guitar was adversely damaged (O'Byrne, 2011). According to his song, he notified the employees who demonstrated a high level of indifference and less concern. Despite making claims for compensation, the Airline declined his request because the 24-hour reporting deadline had elapsed.

Situational analysis

The fruitless efforts for compensation made him compose and record a video about his experience with the Airline. In the song, he regretted having used the airline instead of a car as “United Breaks Guitars.” The video attracted rapid response after being posted on YouTube. It attracted 150 views within a day, 3 million views within a week and extensive media coverage by The Wall Street Journal, CNN, CBS Morning Show, BBC, and much other print and electronic outlets picking up the story as well as 17,733,716 views as at November 3rd, 2017 (YouTube). The media reported the spontaneous success of the song thereby causing public relation frustrations to the airline which led to 10% decline in stock prices thus causing $180 million loss to stockholders within four weeks of its release(O'Byrne, 2011).

SWOT Analysis

In the incident of “United Breaks Guitars,” the following strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, as well as threats, were identified.


It is one of the largest international airlines

Over 14% market share in the year 2009

Good strategic alliance


Minimal social media appearance

Low employee motivation.

Large numbers of employees

Pay cuts on employees’ salaries due to recession

Outsourcing of maintenance services

Pre-existing negative reputation.


Globalisation in the industry

Potential presence online

Potential to improve public relations management.

Acquisition with continental airlines


Competition within the industry


The high cost of resources such as training of employees and fuel.


The Airline boasted of its international operations as it was one of the largest international airlines. It had a presence in major markets in the world. This was evident as it possessed 14% market share in the year 2009(O'Byrne, 2011). The airline also had a good strategic alliance with British Airways that boosted their profitability. This alliance ensured that United Airlines presence in the European markets which was dominated by British Airways was well received (Dieghto & Kornfeld, 2010).

Weaknesses: Despite the various strengths the company possessed, it could not motivate its employees, had low social media appearance, a high number of disgruntled employees as well as outsourcing of maintenance resources (Ryschka &Domke, 2016). Additionally, pre-existing negative reputation in the US market worked against the Airline.

Opportunities: United Airlines has an opportunity to expand its operations worldwide. This is possible based on the high revenue generated from the domestic operations as well as significant market share.

Threats: However, the airline faces threats from external competition in the industry, market dynamism causing a recession and high operational costs. This was further worsened by the mishandling of Dave Carroll’s complain that attracted public scrutiny and negative perception about their staff.


The negligence by the Airline baggage handlers led to damage to Dave Carroll’s Guitar and had adverse effects on some people. These included the Taylor Guitars, equity holders, employees, commercial airline community, the public and those who had ever flown on the airline (Dieghto & Kornfeld, 2010). The customer's taste and preferences changed, other commercial airlines had to review their public relations policies and customer service. The equity holders lost $180 million in stock (Dieghto & Kornfeld, 2010). The audience were identified through the online feedback mechanism and comments posted on YouTube and iTunes concerning the airline. As such, they can as well be reached through online platforms such as direct mail and online customer feedback mechanism.


The goal of this strategic plan is to establish a special cargo and luggage handling equipment and personnel within one year to reduce cargo damages. This is aimed at reducing the damages caused on passengers’ cargo and enhance customers’ satisfaction and retention.

Action Plan

The Airline will acquire new handling equipment and train cargo handlers and flight crew on how best they can handle passengers’ luggage. This will involve training on crisis communication measures, Airline contingency planning, selecting a public relations spokesperson and monitor online discussions to ascertain what is being said about the airline. This will ensure that the customers’ luggage is appropriately handled and protected against damage. The general public will develop positive image towards the company; there will be increased returns for the equity holders, the employees will gain knowledge on customer management while the Tyson Guitars will gain extensive market coverage through this plan hence winning customer trust and increasing the volumes of sales (Dieghto & Kornfeld, 2010).

Communication action plan

A digital platform for customer complaints and immediate feedback mechanism will be established to reduce future damages to the reputation of the firm. Airlines should adopt an end to end customer’s engagement through online digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and direct mails (Ryschka &Domke, 2016).

Communication plan

The company will develop a communication campaign platform called “United Loves Guitars. They would conduct online campaigns incorporating the complainant which in this situation is Carroll to convince the public that he had forgiven the airline. The airline will also improve customer complain reporting and feedback mechanism by establishing digital Human Resource office in charge of customer complaints. This initiative will be spearheaded by David Vap on interaction platforms called “Social Hotline” (O'Byrne, 2011). This will be accompanied by the distribution of Tyson Guitars to young artists in the industry as an evidence of remorsefulness.

Key messages will include:

Music is an artistic display of information through rhythms and beats and that we sorry for what happened.

We as our esteemed customers to forgive us for our misconduct.

We will offer 300 free tickets to and from Chicago O'Hare International Airport to Omaha Nebraska.

United Airlines will compensate damaged luggage reported to us.

These shall be implemented between 1st July and 31st December 2009.


An increase in passenger traffic and online reviews will imply that the campaign was efficient and the apologies accepted as a gesture of generosity and humility always change customer perceptions about brands (Dieghto & Kornfeld, 2010).As such, there will be no phase two of this campaign as the airline shall have eradicated passenger frustration. The airline will employ contingency plans for future crisis management. The specialized equipment for luggage handling adopted will reinforce this decision as it will ensure no future damages.

Thoughts and comments

There need by the Airline management to act swiftly during the crisis to ensure that an amicable resolution is reached by the agitated parties. If the airline had acted promptly and satisfactorily, Dave would not have released a protest song. As a PR professional, United Airline demonstrated an act of negligence hence the protest song was justifiable. During the crisis, the airline was to apologize immediately, release a press statement, appoint a competent spokesperson, communicate and respond to the customers as customers are always right.


Deighton, J., & Kornfeld, L. (2010). United Breaks Guitars. Harvard Business School Cases, 1.

O'Byrne, M. (2011). "United Breaks Guitars": Examining in Anti- Corporate Protest Music. Music cultures, 38116-13

Ryschka, A. M., Domke, D. J., Keels, J. K., & Nagel, R. (2016). The Impact of Social Media on Management of Crisis. New York Publishers.

March 15, 2023

Social Movements

Subject area:

Song Protest Social Media

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