United Breaks Guitars (2012) Harvard Business School Case (Deighton and Kornfeld)
When social media propagate a complaint about poor customer service, an international media event ensues. How do viral videos spread and what can firms do about them? This case dissects an incident in which a disgruntled customer used YouTube and Twitter to spread a music video detailing United’s mishandling of his $3,500 guitar and the company’s subsequent refusal to compensate him. The song was called “United Breaks Guitars.” Within one week it received 3 million views and mainstream news coverage followed, with CNN, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, the CBS Morning Show, and many other print and electronic outlets picking up on the story. The mechanics of viral propagation are uncovered and the limited opportunities for response by the firm are revealed. The case supports the notion of the Internet as an insurgent medium, better at attack than at defense.