Typo Leads to Travel Nightmare

Keeping with my tradition of reporting personal stories of being stuck in the cogs of a malfunctioning bureaucratic machine (ie last year’s electricity outage), I give you: my typo travel disaster:
My story begins with my checking in for my flight home for the holidays (Boston to Seattle – non-stop). It’s standard practice in my family, if we’re not in a particular hurry, to ask whether the flight is full and whether we might catch a later flight in exchange for some sort of reward, usually a free ticket. I’ve tried this many times, but never with success. This time, it actually worked. The woman at the check in counter offered to put me on the next morning’s non-stop flight (different carrier) and offered a voucher for a free ticket if I would give up my seat. I agreed.
I left the airport, voucher and new ticket in hand, and headed for the subway. After some transportation issues involving a closed subway, 200 people in the street, and a slow and expensive cab, I arrived at my apartment and proceeded to look up my new flight information so that I could alert my parents to my one-day delay.
To my surprise, my newly issued ticket was dated for the 29th instead of the 19th, no doubt the result of a single slip of the finger during an otherwise needlessly complicated series of keystrokes by the ticket agent. (Really now, what could they possibly be typing back there?) I called the airline to straighten out the problem.
I’ve never been an irate passenger or customer, and in keeping with my usual methods of conflict reconciliation, I calmly explained the situation to the airline. The representative responded that there was “nothing that we could do here.” I calmly asked what number I should call to straighten out the situation. The representative started yelling: “I’m sorry sir, but there is nothing we can do.” She suggested that I go back to the airport.
I will spare the details of the words that followed over the next 48 minutes, but let me summarize by saying that, for the first time in my life, I had to demand to speak to a supervisor… twice. At some point down the line, people started being very friendly to me over the phone. I ended up with a three-hour layover in Chicago, but at least I was scheduled for a new flight.
The next morning I proceeded to the airport with the instructions to “get there a little early and go to the original airline’s counter to tell them your story.” This would have been a lot easier had my girlfriend’s car started when she turned the key. I ended up with a ridiculously expensive $30 cab ride (should have been about half that) to the airport. There was no line at the original airline’s counter, but for good reason: there was no one working there. Luckily, a neighboring airline’s employee was able to exchange my incorrect ticket for the new one I had been promised over the phone.
In the end I was given a first class seat for both legs of the arduous journey, but between the layover, phone treatment, cab fares, and delays (there were more delays), I was unimpressed with the extra 3 inches of hip room. I’ve always wondered about those first-class passengers. They never look very happy to be in first class. Only now do I realize that seat 1A is not the king’s chair but actually the airline’s throne of pity. I will be sure to use my travel voucher to book the longest, most exotic and expensive trip I can conjure, and I will take that trip during the busiest and blackest of blackout dates (which don’t apply to my voucher.)

Google Ad Update

Google got a court victory yesterday with respect to the machine-readable use of competing trademarks in contextual targeted online advertisements. I’ve been interested in this concept because the mark is never seen by the consumer (that’s the yet unresolved part of the case). The mark is, however, used behind the scenes. It’s just that only computers can actually “see” the mark. [NYT Article]

Christmas Festival of Lights

As a city dweller, I really haven’t been seeing much in the way of Christmas lights over the last few years. Tonight, on a bus through the suburbs, I was really surprised by the complexity of many of the displays decorating what I think are moderate-cost homes. When a good percentage of houses have lights on a particular street, the scene really looks festive, but I mean more in a “fiesta!” kind of way rather than a “holiday spirit” kind of way. It really looks like people should be dancing in the street and perhaps throwing beads.

New Marketing Tactics

I’ve seen a couple of innovative consumer marketing tactics recently that have caught me by surprise. I don’t know if these are actually new ideas or if I just haven’t done enough Saturday shopping to notice, but these are certainly attention getting ideas:

  1. Last weekend I went to a popular outlet store mall. It was very crowded, and over half of the people walking around were all carrying the same giant bag. What store would be popular enough to have a 50%+ market reach? It was Citizen’s Bank, which doesn’t have a store at all.
    Citizen’s Bank recognized that it was a busy pre-Christmas shopping weekend and that people would be buying lots of things. By giving away high-quality giant green shopping bags, Citizen’s was successful in covering almost every other mobile logo (ie bag) with their own. On top of the obvious value of spreading their logo around the mall, they were also able to saturate the shopping audience. It wasn’t just a bag here or there catching the consumer’s eye. It was a sea of green bags so large it was impossible not to notice.
  2. Yesterday there was something of a street performance in front of the Adidas store in Harvard Square. The performers consisted of an MC, a beatboxer, a trumpet player, and a didgeridoo player. They actually sounded pretty good. I’ve seen bands perform at record stores to promote their music, but this band was promoting the store itself, lending their hipster cred to the store by showing up in all-Adidas outfits.
    Two weeks ago I saw a similar brand appearance in the entryway to an Abercrombie and Fitch store in the mall. Most mall stores have “greeters” during the busy shopping season, but these greeters offered a little more than a smile. In the spirit of Abercrombie’s infamous catalogs, their greeters gave passing shoppers something to gawk at. The female greeter was an attractive young woman in a short skirt, and the male greeter was showing off his sculpted torso by not wearing a shirt at all. Surely Abercrombie and Fitch sells shirts, but the Abercrombie brand is apparently less about the clothes and more about the half-naked people.

I think both of these examples illustrate the ever-increasing trend to build brand image where people shop. In many ways, stores and shopping malls are as important as marketing outposts as they are sales outlets, and in some cases (ie Times Square) the marketing value of a store is perceived to be higher than the sales potential and stores run at a loss.

Pixies Show Report

I saw the Pixies on Wednesday in Lowell, Massachusetts. I’m a huge Pixies fan, and I’d often dreamed that they would get back together for a tour. The show did not disappoint. They played plenty of songs, covering everything I could have hoped to hear, including both versions of Wave of Mutilation. The stadium crowd was full of dedicated fans, which added a lot of energy. Pixies members are definitely aging in appearance, but you’d never know it from the show – especially impressive considering they’re playing almost every single night these days.
The one drawback to the show was the location. Who wants to leave the city for a show? There wasn’t much chance of getting to Lowell without a car, and there were enough cars to cause serious traffic problems. Level 4 of the parking garage remained a parking lot for a full 1.5 hours after the show. At midnight on a Wednesday, I prefer sleeping to sitting in a parked car in Lowell.
To add insult to injury, the Pixies just announced that they actually will be playing a show in Boston. I couldn’t manage to get a ticket though.