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If you are looking for a perfect example of how a corporate message can both fail and annoy at the same time, you need go no further than the first minutes of a flight on United Airlines these days. As a frequent flier I know that every flight begins with the safety announcements and I rarely pay attention. (Honestly, does anyone really need to learn how to put on a seat belt?) I only watch the demonstration if a flight attendant somehow makes it special, which actually happens a few times every year.

I was compelled to watch one day this week after the attendant gave such a special sense of urgency. Strangely enough the safety video began with an announcement by United Airline’s CEO. At first, I got excited thinking it was enormously cool that the CEO was delivering the safety message. What a great example of bringing personality to a somewhat faceless company with a CEO most of us couldn’t pick out of a line-up.

Only the CEO didn’t deliver the safety message. Instead he talked about United’s merger with Continental. That might be an important business issue, but it hardly belongs at the start of the safety video. I assume the safety video is actually important, especially for occasional fliers. So wasting even 10 seconds on a corporate message is simply wrong because I’m certain it caused more than a few people to lose focus. In many ways this ad abused our time and that’s a lesson none of us should forget. It would be like running a corporate ad in the midst of food safety information, when the ad has nothing to do with food safety.

I doubt I would have felt the same annoyance if the CEO’s message ran at the end, although in truth it shouldn’t be running at all. Messages need to convey something the customer should want to know or need to know. This merger announcement really had nothing to tell us and there’s nothing I need or want to know about an airline merger while sitting in a cramped economy seat. At that point just fly the plane safely and get me and my bags to the same city.

Truth be told, though, I have no idea what the CEO said in the entire message. The more he spoke, the sleepier I felt and in no time he became my eye closer.

Strangely enough, that’s my Friday Eye-Opener.

- Michael Sansolo
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