Commentary by Rance Crain


Advertising is Wasted When You Don't Respect Your Customers

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What do beleaguered United Airlines and McDonald's have in common? Lousy service. It drives customers away and
Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'

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it makes advertising a total waste of money. Nobody will pay attention to clever ad blandishments after they are yelled at by flight attendants (as my daughter and her family were) or had to wait 15 minutes for a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese (as I had to).

It's nice to know our family publishing company made more money this year than the U.S. airlines combined. What that shows is the big airlines' costs are too high and their revenue can't support them. Their only solution: Pare down operations, lower overhead and compete with the no-frills airlines.

It's not about price
However, price alone is not the sole reason to fly the cut-rate carriers. Though they don't offer amenities to speak of, I'm convinced people are flocking to the new lines because they're treated with respect there. As the head of JetBlue said on CBS's 60 Minutes a while ago, the major airlines "treat people like they're an annoyance. ... We won't scowl at you if you try to put something in the overhead bin."

When my daughter Heather and her family flew to Orlando from Chicago recently, there was a whole lot of scowling going on. Heather and her husband, Steven, have five children, including 8-month-old twin boys. It's a major expedition when they travel. United didn't make it any easier, beginning with the boarding process. When they handed the agent their tickets and IDs, the agent said each person had to carry their own. "But our boys are only

Flying the surly skies of United?
8 months old," Heather said. "Sorry, but you have to do that," the agent insisted.

When they finally got aboard, the flight attendant hurried them to buckle the twins' car seats. She said to Steven, "Sit. You have to sit down. We have to take off."

Bereated over the loudspeaker
As the plane pulled away from the gate, both boys started to wail and Steven stood to get bottles from the diaper bag in the overhead bin. Over the loud speaker, the flight attendant said, "Sir, if you don't sit down we are going to have to stop the plane." A woman in front of Heather said, "Those stewardesses are not cutting you a break." As it turned out, the flight attendants were irritated and unhelpful the whole trip.

Chapter 11 won't help that much, I'm afraid. United will jettison costs and maybe even cut fares to compete with Southwest and JetBlue. But then they'll be an airline with cheaper fares that still treats passengers like they're a nuisance -- hardly a reason for passengers to abandon the cheap and friendly carriers.

McDonald's: Something they're not
McDonald's big problem? They tried to be something they're not, and in the process they became slow and unresponsive. People don't go to McDonald's for great-tasting food; they go for (duh) fast food. The last time I went to McDonald's the person taking my order also put my meal together. The guy in front of me said the same thing happens every Sunday. (Maybe he keeps coming back for the great taste).

At least McDonald's, under new management, can go back to doing what it does best: pumping out assembly-line food. (And forget the $1 value meals; few people go there for low prices.)

United, I'm afraid, has more serious problems. Its snarly employees won't suddenly start winning medals in the Miss Congeniality contest.

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