Tag Archives: branding

Why Does It Take So Long For United Airlines To Come Up With New Menu Ideas? (And Should It?)

Yes, you read that right: It takes a full year for United Airlines to get a new meal option onto a flight. It takes a full year — 12 months, 365 days, 525,600 minutes —
to create a new food option and get it ready to be served on a United flight.

And to think: Many of us who’ve eaten these meals would hardly classify them as “food.”

One year. I’m hung up on that number. That’s an awfully long time to institute a tiny change to an airline menu, isn’t it?

I’ll ask you now: What if they could do it in a day? What if they could do it better?

United Airlines flies to 186 destinations. Their big issue is that some ingredients — like Wisconsin cheddar cheese —are easy to get domestically, but impossible to get in places like Dubai. And the meals are made at the departure airport. That means that United needs lots of different menu options that can best take advantage of ingredients available near the departure airport.

But what if United just simplified their list of ingredients to include things that can be found at any airport kitchen in the world? What if United only cooked from that list?

And what if United changed its menu every day, with United’s head chefs emailing out that day’s menu options?

And what if — because yes, local flavor is important — United empowered local chefs to add an ingredient or two from the departure airport to personalize the flight? (Sushi from Japan, hummus from Tel Aviv, cheddar cheese from Milwaukee.)

What if United focused on going fresh every day, and creating a beautiful meal presentation for all of its passengers?

What if United decided to spend a little more on airplane food? As of 2010, United spent about $6.35 per meal per passenger — is that enough for passengers who’ve paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for a seat?

What if United decided that while every other airline cuts back on meals, they’d make it a priority? What if passengers actually looked forward to their meals on the flight – because they knew it was made that day, and made specifically for them that day, not dreamed up in a kitchen a full year earlier?

What if — instead of getting the menu absolutely perfect months in advance — United focused on delighting its customers every single day?

I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, but… they’d never go for it. It’s too complicated. Too costly. Too hard.

And I say: Every day, United moves thousands of people around the world. You’re telling me they can’t think of a better way to serve us salad and sandwiches in the sky?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Work is a differentiator in this world. Hustle is a differentiator in this world.

Everything else is just excuses.

In whatever you do: Do great work. Surprise us. Delight us.

Even you, United Airlines.

That photo of airplane food at top comes via @tiffkathlee.

From the Dept. of Things I Want: The Kid’s Menu of Wine Lists.

I went out to dinner last night with this girl. She was about my age. From upstate New York. We met via kickball, and I asked her out. Nothing too formal. Kickball romances typically aren’t, I’m told.

But we were on this patio, and it was a nice night, and she had gone through the post-work motions of getting all dressed up, and I suggested we get a bottle of wine. The waiter brought us the wine list.

It was, front to back, no fewer than 15 pages. It must’ve featured 200 wines. Maybe more.

We were lost.

Both of us like wine. Both of us wanted a red wine. And neither of us could figure out if any of the hundred-something red wines available were right for us.

We asked the waiter for help. He spent a full 60 seconds looking through the list before getting flustered and calling in some backup. To find a red wine that wouldn’t max out my credit card, we needed the assistance of the restaurant’s sommelier.

Shouldn’t there have been an easier way?


What we really needed were fewer choices. We needed a list tailored to the needs of the wine-drinking 24-year-old on a semi-fixed income.

Here’s what a young wine drinker wants:

1. Red or white
2. For under $40

That’s the entire list of characteristics(1).

So that eliminates half the wines from last night’s menu. But don’t stop there. I don’t need six malbecs on the menu. I don’t need three pages of cabernet sauvignons.

I want the Kid’s Menu of Wine Lists.


Wine Pairings

Here’s what I’m offering you, sommeliers of America: the chance to make a customer for life.

Because I don’t understand wine. I don’t appreciate its subtleties. I like wine, and I’ll happily pay $25 or $30 at a restaurant for nice bottle to share with a date. But when I’m at the liquor store, I buy wine based on how colorful the bottle is. I don’t remember names or tastes or blends.

I remember that I tried the wine with the penguin on the bottle.

But there’s an opportunity here. Because there are lots of young people like me who simply do not know how to order wine. We don’t drink it that often. But we like to seem cultured, and, ideally, there will come a time when I’m on a date and I’d like to be able to point to the menu and say, “Oh, yes! This one! I had this a few months back at _______! This is the one we want.” And she’ll be impressed, and I’ll be happy, and we’ll both end up drunk, and that’s all I can really ask for from a bottle of wine.

So give me limited choices. Offer two wine menus: the Full Menu, and the Limited Selection(2). Make it 10 wines. Make every bottle on the menu the same price — $30, $35, whatever. Otherwise, we’ll always choose the cheapest one. Eliminate that distraction.

Make the menu one page, and only one. Give us a full description of each wine. Offer tastings, if we’d like.

And at the end of the night, on the receipt, ask us if we’d like to leave our email addresses, so that you can shoot us details about what we’ve just enjoyed and where we can find it in our neighborhood. A coupon wouldn’t hurt, either.

Point is: Limit our options and make us fans of something new. We 20somethings are loyal. If we like something, we’ll stick with it. And we’ll come back to your restaurant and tell our friends about you, because we’ll have found a place that invited us to experience something new. We like feeling welcome, and we love it when people treat us seriously(3).

All we’re asking is for you to help us. We won’t be insulted by a limited wine menu. Hell, we’d probably order more wine if you presented it to us that way. The full menu can be intimidating.

Because I saw the 15-page-long wine menu last night. And on the back jacket cover, I saw the beer selection. There were four beers on it. I knew all their names.

That seemed like something that I could handle.


You know what ended up happening last night? The sommelier came. He spent 45 seconds deliberating about his selection of red wines. He pointed to a wine on the menu. We ordered it.

It was, to be fair, delicious.

But today, I was relaying this story to my mother. And she asked me a simple question:

“So what wine did you end up getting?”

And I realized: I had absolutely no idea.

  1. And no screw off tops — it makes us feel like we’re buying a $5 bottle.
  2. Please don’t insult us and call it the Young Drinker’s Selection, or the Kid’s Wine List. We do like being treated like semi-competent humans.
  3. This isn’t necessarily breaking news, but you’d be surprised at how many adults treat 24-year-olds like we’re 12.

How Bon Jovi’s Subversive Smiley Face Would Go Viral in 2011.

I got a Bon Jovi song stuck in my head the other day. The song was “Have a Nice Day,” the title track from the band’s 2005 album. It’s got all the Bon Jovi hallmarks: those familiar power chords, Richie Sambora playing a double-necked guitar and multiple lyrics about “living my life.” All it’s missing is that signature “wah-wah” guitar riff.

But the music video for the song got me thinking about how viral campaigns work. The video starts off with Jon Bon Jovi outside of one of his concerts. A fan hands him a copy of the CD, and the singer grabs a Sharpie and draws this little doodle.

Then the fan pulls out his cell phone, takes a photo of the doodle and sends it to someone. And from there, the subversive smiley face goes viral. It’s plastered on mailboxes and billboards, tattooed onto arms and lower backs, and even cut into a corn field.

But step back a second. Let’s see where this all starts in the video.

It starts with that. With a picture taken on an old-fashioned, non-flip, Sprint cell phone. Not a Blackberry. Not an iPhone. A phone that retails today for less than $20.

Let’s put this Bon Jovi video campaign in perspective. The song came out in August 2005. The iPhone wouldn’t be released until June 2007. Twitter wouldn’t launch for another year, and wouldn’t gain popularity for another three years. Facebook was still limited to college students only, and those with accounts could only post one photo — their profile photo.

So this within-a-video viral campaign — one from a song that’s only six years old — is almost comically antiquated.

How would Bon Jovi’s smiley face go viral today? Probably like this.


Bon Jovi draws the image on a fan’s CD. The fan whips out his iPhone and Twitpics it. Then, even though it’s a doodle, he Instagrams the image, because everything looks better in sepia.

The Twitpic gets a little bit of traction at first — a retweet here, a retweet there. Someone mass @-replies the message to celebrities. @kimkardashian makes the image her profile pic.

Soon, the smiley has its own Facebook page — Can this smiley face get more fans than the Jonas Brothers?

Then it gets its own Twitter account — @SubversiveSmiley, along with dozens of impostor accounts. (@FakeSubversiveSmiley, @SubversiveFrowny, @SubversiveSmileyGlobalPR, among others.)

(The Twitter account is later republished in book form, and makes the New York Times best-seller list. The CBS sitcom based on the tweets — “Have a Nice Day” starring John Stamos as a stuck-in-the-80s Jersey dad trying to make good — gets cancelled after the third episode.)

4Chan launches a meme — #icanhazsmiley — and then the Cheezburger Network launches a site devoted to sneaking the smiley face into famous photos “Where’s Waldo” style.

HuffPo publishes a photo gallery of 21 famous smiley faces, and although mostly inane, it draws 11 million page views.

@KanyeWest retweets the initial image with the hashtag #SWAG, and announces his next album will be called “Show Me How to Smiley.”

The image jumps the shark.

Two weeks later, Bon Jovi’s album, “Have a Nice Day,” finally hits iTunes. Fans are confused as to why Bon Jovi’s album is featuring an image that’s so last week.

Why Twitter is Like Times Square, and Why Nike Ads Are Best Shared on Facebook.

In 1999, in an attempt to defeat the morning ratings Cerberus that was Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and Al Roker, ABC countered with an unusual move:

They built a studio in Times Square.

If you’ve been to Times Square in the last decade, you know which one I’m talking about. Other networks have studios there, too — MTV’s ‘TRL’ studio among them — but the ABC studio stands out. Their wrap-around ticker is the reason why.

Around the edges of the building is this wavy, double-deckered contraption that was Disney Imagineered specifically for the studio. Short news bites scroll across the ticker 24 hours a day.

Now I want you to imagine going to Times Square. You’re standing in the middle of the busiest intersection in the busiest city in the world. There are thousands of cars streaming past you, thousands of people walking past you. A giant Coca-Cola bottle is magically refilling and emptying itself, while a dozen Jumbotrons flash ads nearby.

The distractions are endless.

Now look over at that double-decker ticker at the ABC studio, and consider this: you’re standing there, all the world whizzing past, and you’re watching words scroll past you on a screen.

In a way, this is a lot like how Twitter works.


The problem with the Internet is not a lack of content. In 60 days, according to YouTube’s latest numbers, more video is uploaded to the site than was created by ABC, CBS and NBC in the past 60 years. There are 400 million active Facebook users, and more than 75 million Twitter users.

But that’s before you factor in mainstream media sites, blogs and — most massive of all — e-mail.

All of these sources are creating content (1) The problem is — and I am by no means the first person to suggest this — a shortage of filters to sort through all that content.

There are only two filters that most consumers use to find stuff on the Internet:

1. People you know
2. Google

This is kind of a problem.


Mark Cuban said it well at South by Southwest: it’s not the production of Internet content that’s expensive — it’s the marketing.

If you’re creating something on the web, you’re up against an infinite amount of content.

But that’s not the case with Twitter. On Twitter, it’s even harder to stand out, because the amount of content that Twitter produces each minute is astonishing — the site records more than 50 million tweets per day, at last check — and the filters for Twitter are even less developed.


What this is all coming back around to is this notion that it’s even possible for a brand to stand out on the Internet.

It is.

But it takes a really impressive effort to pull it off.

So consider the example of Nike. The World Cup starts in exactly 21 days, and Nike’s heavily invested in some of the biggest soccer stars in the world, including Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba. So Nike did what it always does for a big soccer tournament: they pulled out a massive marketing campaign.

What they came up with — and I’ve embedded it below — features the biggest names in the soccer world. Plus Kobe Bryant, Homer Simpson and Roger Federer. And some awesome footage from around the globe.

This afternoon, over at one of my favorite soccer blogs, I saw the ad for the first time. I clicked through to the YouTube page. The video had only 300 views.

But below the video, there was an unusual note: the video had been “unlisted” on YouTube, which meant that it wouldn’t show up in search results or on Nike’s YouTube channel. The URL was secret; unless someone pointed you to it, you’d never know it was there. It’s the YouTube equivalent of Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4. Either you know it’s there and can get to it and experience it, or you can’t. You’re not going to be able to just stumble upon it unless someone else shows it to you.

What Nike was saying when they unlisted the video was, To prove how loyal our fans are, we’re going to make it as hard as possible to find the ad. We’re betting that the video will go viral anyway.

So I tweeted the link to the video and went to take a nap. When I woke up, I saw that my initial tweet had gotten a few retweets. I went back to the YouTube page for the spot to see how it was doing.

It had over 97,000 views.

What the hell happened?


I went to bit.ly to see if they could offer insight. They did. The link I’d tweeted  — http://bit.ly/czPBdf, which redirected viewers to the YouTube video — had been clicked on over 7,000 times. (2) 114 of those clicks came from twitterers, some tweeting in English, Portugese, Spanish and even Korean.

But 5,700 people had shared the link on Facebook. Another 1,100 had “liked” the link on Facebook.

So I followed the trail of links.

Nike has only 8,000 followers on Twitter. On Facebook, they’ve got over 600,000 fans.

And how did Nike mobilize that Facebook audience to action? They’d invited them onto the virtual red carpet.

On May 15, they announced that they’d be screening the video on May 20 at 6 p.m. They invited their fans to watch.

On May 19, 80,000 people had RSVPed on Facebook to watch. On the morning of May 20, that number was 108,000. At launch time, 120,203 fans had confirmed themselves as guests.

So what happened? Nike leaked the video at the appointed time. People showed up to watch it. And then people starting sharing it. And sharing it.

And suddenly, an invisible link on YouTube had 100,000 views in a matter of minutes. (3)

And the best part for Nike: these were people who actively wanted to watch the video — a video that, I should add, is actually a paid endorsement for shoes and soccer balls. These were people who, technically, were going out of their way to share the video with their friends.

But it didn’t feel like those people were going out of their way. When the barriers to sharing are as low as a click, how could you?


A few months ago, my dad was asking me about something I had written. He thought more people deserved to read it.

“But I thought you put it out on Twitter,” he said.

I did, I explained. To my 200+ followers. A few clicked; a few retweeted it. And that was it.

“Doesn’t being on Twitter doesn’t make something viral?” he asked.

No, I told him.

But I don’t think my dad’s alone in his confusion about how something gets exposure on the web. He’ll notice content when it rises to the top. He’s rarely aware of that content’s journey to that point.

So here’s the takeaway:

Twitter works best in tandem with an actual event. An election, an inauguration or a big Congressional vote. The Super Bowl. A conference or a class. Anything, really, in which there are large amounts of people gathered and discussing/watching/listening/reacting to a single thing. That’s when you really get to see Twitter at it’s best, because that’s when great discussion is happening in real time.

But when it comes to sharing content, Facebook is still tops. Facebook taps deeper into those Dunbar circles. Twitter tends to hit the outer edges.

If you’re standing in Times Square, Facebook’s that friend from New York who says, “Hey, see that thing over there? That’s what you’re supposed to be looking at.”

Until Twitter creates the filters to replicate that experience, people will still turn to Facebook first to share.

But they are sharing. And for any brand, that is very, very good news.

  1. Which I’ll simply describe as words, pictures, sounds or some combination of the three.
  2. To be clear: I was not the first person to tweet that specific bit.ly link, though if I was video view no. 300, I must’ve been among the first.
  3. Some 48 hours later, the video is closing in on 4 million views. As for the initial link I tweeted: the number of times it’s been tweeted hasn’t changed. But an additional 125,000 people have shared the video on Facebook, and another 70,000 have liked it.

A Thought About Lifestreaming

The chart above is from Steve Rubel’s blog, and I think it’s a monumentally important step in terms of defining the scope of all this new media. (1)

I’ll let Mr. Rubel explain what the chart means in terms of his blog:

How would you feel about a structure like this where I theme the content based on the day of the week? Monday we tackle models and/or mindmaps, Tuesday we talk trends, etc. I want to post more often and more creatively than just writing.

This gets to a thought that I’ve been working through for some months now. My blog has become much more targeted: I write about journalism, with a few anecdotes from my life thrown in. But my Twitter feed is all over the place. It’s essentially a link dump; I see an interesting article, and I post it to Twitter. The thing is, the links have no common theme, except for the fact that I find them interesting. So basically, I’ve got a Del.icio.us page that’s targeted to friends.

I know I’m not the only one with such a problem. Take the Twitter feed for the San Antonio daily newspaper, The Express-News. Follow @mysa on a day-to-day basis, and you’ll find that their tweets are very strange. One minute, they’re tweeting the daily pollen count. The next, they’ve got photos from a crime scene. And minutes later, they’ll have the lotto numbers, or the score of a high school football game, or maybe a column about tacos. Point is: I’ve followed them for months, and I have no idea why they tweet the way they do.

That’s a problem. If I follow you on Twitter or subscribe to an RSS feed of your blog, or even if I read/watch/listen to your media outlet’s news on a regular basis, I want to know the answer to two questions:

  1. What do you write/talk about?
  2. Why do you write/talk about it?

I like Rubel’s idea of defining days of the week, especially for new media that tends to span a variety of topics. It could be an interesting way to keep readers engaged.

As for my Twitter feed, I’d like it to be a bit more focused. The only question is: when I see a link or a topic that’s outside my scope, what should I do with it then?

  1. Which would include technology like: Tweeting, Facebooking, Flickring, texting, livestreaming, liveblogging, livechatting or any other verb that didn’t exist at the start of this millenium.

Proof That Not Everything Needs to be Rebranded.

I’m a big fan of branding and — more particularly — re-branding. When a product isn’t selling, it might not be because the product isn’t any good. The flaw might be in the presentation of the product.

But not everything really needs to be rebranded. I’m reminded of this now, as I’m looking at the latest offer on woot.com, a site that offers a new deal every 24 hours. Here’s their latest bargain:

A ‘three-speed mid-size air circulator”? Sure, it sounds fancy, and maybe even elegant in a weirdly technocratic way. But what’s so wrong about the word “fan”?

On: Choosing Your Words Carefully. (Or: Why a Dead Russian Guy Is Affecting White House Policy.)

Late Saturday night, two days into a Labor Day weekend, a special adviser to President Obama resigned. Now, this blog post isn’t about the politics of the issue, but it’ll be helpful if you watch Newsy.com’s roundup of the issue. Pay particular attention to the one four letter word that keeps coming up over and over again:

Did you catch it? It’s four letters, and it seems to have Americans scared out of their minds:


In the same way that the federal government failed to brand the H1N1 virus correctly — leading to the still-used nickname “swine flu,” and causing short-term damage to the pork industry — the White House hasn’t gotten a lid on this “czar” title. And as long as it’s around, it’ll continue to cause confusion for the American public.

The White House does not — in official documents — refer to people like Jones as czars. As Politico points out, “the Obama administration has about 30 czars — a term used as shorthand for long, wonky titles such as Jones’s ‘Council on Environmental Quality’s special adviser for green jobs.'”

What it comes down to is this: for reporters, Jones’ full title takes up too many seconds to say or too many inches to publish. ‘Czar’ seems to get across the point just fine.

The problem is, it doesn’t. Czar isn’t a neutral word; it’s a word that connotes any number of Russian or Slavic leaders who had occasionally-ruthless territorial and economic expansion in mind.

Oddly enough, the word was first used in American politics to attack a rival of President Andrew Jackson, and later used by Democrats against a Republican Speaker of the House. Back then, when Czar Nicholas I was still in power, the phrase carried a significant amount of baggage. Today, it still does.

So here’s where the issue of branding comes in: as long as the American public is still subconsciously connecting Presidential advisers on drugs, climate change and urban affairs with a Russian leader who died in 1855, the White House is going to have a tough haul.

Politico notes that there are more than 30 ‘czars’ in this administration. We have an AIDS czar, a California water czar, a Great Lakes czar and even a Sudan czar.

But in official policy, the White House does not refer to these advisers like that. In speeches, Obama refers to the Sudan czar as Scott Gration, a Special Envoy to Sudan. And the AIDS czar is Jeffery S. Crowley, Director of Office of National AIDS Policy.

But reporters — who don’t really have time to explain to Americans in a 45 second live shot what a special envoy does or where Sudan is — have taken these jobs out of context. From a journalist’s perspective, we’ve caused harm by not explaining who these men and women are or what they do, and it’s the reason why I’m seeing women in El Paso scream out, “I’m here because I love my country. I want to take it back from Obama and his czars!”

Had the White House tried to accurately label their advisers — and make sure that the media reported about them as such — I’d imagine we wouldn’t see revved-up west Texans yelling things like, “I want to take back this country from Obama and his team of mid-level, non-Cabinet policy advisers with no formal budgetary control!”

The White House hasn’t helped their cause. In official releases, they use the formal titles. But during press conferences, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs does slip into informal terms. Prompted by a query about the drug czar, he’ll respond, “Let me address the czar question for a minute.” Or the President, while talking about how he’ll hold his advisers accountable, will mention, “Well, the goal of the border czar is to….”

There’s an easy way for the President’s team to fix this: they need to choose their words carefully. If the media isn’t going to responsibly label non-Cabinet officials — and the onus is on us journalists to do so — then it’s up to the White House to correct reporters. This isn’t spin control; it’s simply an exercise in logic.

Right now, due to poor branding, the White House is letting a Russian leader who’s been dead since the Civil War affect policy decisions. That seems odd.


Post-script: Turns out that right after Jones took the job, he actually sent out an email saying, “I am not going to be any kind of ‘Czar.'” Guess that didn’t work.