While His Guitar Gently Breaks

Music video about how airline shattered musician’s six-string becomes a smash hit

YouTube isn’t only a threat to TV – it may soon replace the Better Business Bureau.

A music video about how United Airlines allegedly smashed a musician’s guitar last year is taking flight, notching more than 3.5 million YouTube views in three weeks.

The video – with the says-it-all title, “United Broke My Guitar” – also has generated more than 16,490 comments, many of them of the same-thing-happened-to-me variety.

“United Broke My Guitar” has catapulted victim/musician Dave Carroll and his band, Sons of Maxwell, out of virtual obscurity – and shows how the web may be the consumer’s most powerful weapon.

"United Breaks Guitars"

Carroll’s catchy, country-infused tune tells how his beloved Taylor guitar got mangled by baggage handlers at O’Hare Airport – and how his efforts to get United Airlines to pick up the $1,200 repair bill turned into a nine-month runaround that ended with a big, fat “no.”

It only took two days – and the first half-million YouTube hits on the low-budget but clever video – for United to finally respond to the Canadian musician. “This struck a chord with us,” a United spokeswoman told the Chicago Tribune.

The musical saga marks one of the latest signs of consumers flexing their muscle through social media – and packing a wallop. Bad reviews, sent via Twitter, are being blamed for part of the sudden falloff in box office “Bruno” suffered after its big opening day.

Some companies are smart enough to use social media to communicate with and help their clients, while others are sticking to old ways that stick it to customers.

Buzzmachine.com blogger Jeff Jarvis tweeted Sunday about trouble he was having with Cablevision and quickly got a response – from rival Verizon. (He also famously launched an Internet-based consumer revolt against Dell in 2005 that led to changes in customer-relation policies at the company. Full disclosure: Jarvis is a colleague at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.) 

Starbucks started a website to solicit customer ideas that are voted upon. Best Buy just launched Twelpforce, a Twitter-based help and promotions line, TechCrunch reports.

Thanks to the Internet, consumers are in a better position to call the tune – and sometimes sing it. Carroll is planning to turn his experiences with United into a trilogy of songs and videos.

“If anything, I should thank United,” he wrote on his blog.  “They’ve given me a creative outlet that has brought people together from around the world.”

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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