How to Stiff Your Customers and Still Stay in Business

You are a shopper. Let me ask you this question: is there such a thing as advertising reaching such a saturation level that would cause you to rebel and reject buying from companies that are the worst abusers?

In other words, do you have an annoyance break point? Do you have a strong sense that there should be “advertising-free zones” in public life?

There is advertising now in public rest rooms, on the floors of supermarkets, in elevators, even on the walls of schools and the sides of school buses.

Advertisers are relentlessly searching and probing for new locations. Years ago, we helped beat back corporate attempts to “rent” a corner of U.S. Postage stamps for corporate logos. These firms still dream of putting their labels on the uniforms of major league baseball players. Most players said, unequivocally, no, leaving money on the table.

A decent sense of limits escapes many in the commercial advertising industry. In the past few days, there was a report in The New York Times about companies paying thousands of motorists for the opportunity to wrap their automobiles and trucks with their company logos and slogans.

A Brian Katz was paid $500 a month for the use of space on his Ford Expedition. Onlookers can see Jamba Juice and Verizon Wireless publicized on his vehicle. The “wrapped car” craze has a million car owners who are ready to have their cars wrapped for a fee.

Wrapping is getting more intrusive for the driver. He or she is expected not to smoke, curse or litter. In some cases, they are supposed to hand out samples.

Up in the air, the advertisers are pushing to sign up airlines for commercials on the overhead baggage compartments, the backs of closed tray tables and on whatever paper products they bring with their drinks. Headway on this latest intrusion is occurring among European low-cost carriers like Ryanair and Germanwings.

Customer passivity invites more advertisements in more and more places long considered off-limits. Want to fight back? For starters, just grumble out loud, complain to service people closest to you.

Second, check out commercialalert.org to see what other people, like yourself, are doing to confront and rollback the rampaging commercialization of society in hitherto taboo regions.

Third, someone please start a website that signs up consumers who won’t buy the products or services of corporate advertisers run amok. The website can describe or depict  the ad and its location by company name and let consumers choose where and what their outrage will boycott.

Companies are sensitive to such fight back methods. Even the tiniest loss of sales margins makes them rethink their indiscretion. But if they don’t hear from you, they’ll be pushing the envelope further, such as renting the cheeks, ear lobes, arms and legs of humans. They’ve already got millions of people sporting their designer labels prominently on their clothing and their cars.

Sometime ago, one alert man in Maryland marched back to his auto dealer and demanded that it take out the embedded company name or pay him for carrying it along the highways.

Companies sure want you to notice them. But many make it very difficult for you to make them notice you. United Airlines service, in contrast to its safety record, would make a fertile case study by a business school entitled “How to Stiff Your Customers and Still Stay in Business.”

Once one of my favorite airlines for service, United Airlines, whether in or out of bankruptcy, seems to keep thinking up ways to irritate its passengers. From making you wait and wait on its automated phone lines to answer a question they have not programmed for, to the outrageous fees for changing a reservation ($100) or an additional checked suitcase ($100), to making it super-difficult just to contact their customer relations office for more sweeping suggestions, United keeps on adding new ways to drain your budget, your time and your patience. The wondrous Southwest Airlines, it is not!

Recently, I asked my associate Barry Williams, to get the uniquely titled “Vice President of Customer Experience” on the phone. Just to course his way through the barriers of rejection and then the transfer experience to get her name and number took him over 30 minutes. Finally, he succeeded! You can call too. She is Ms. Barbara Higgins, P.O. 66100, 14th Floor, Chicago, Illinois, 60666. Tel: 312-997-8120.

Coincidentally, the August 28, 2007 issue of The Wall Street Journal featured on its front page the remarkable, amazing passenger service provided by United Airlines Capt. Denny Flanagan. So astonishing is his care and anticipation that he has been discussed often on FlyerTalk.com.

United Airlines is proud of Capt. Flanagan. Too bad it doesn’t find him contagious!

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