Bob Garfield’s Riff on United Spots is Bunk

By Matt Van Hoven 

Bob Garfield, noted media writer (AdAge) and radio commentator (NPR), can nitpick with the best of ’em. I’d hate to be his tailor, or inker, or child, since the guy seems to have it out for pretty much everyone.

And though his opining is usually worth a read, we have to say that his latest piece on the new United work is…misguided.

Garfield sums up his thought on why the “Time to Fly” campaign (in his mind) doesn’t work.

“At certain moments, advertising &#151 no matter how cunningly crafted &#151 is incapable of sending its intended message. At certain moments, it is capable only of triggering associations with the larger story in the public mind. That’s one reason you haven’t seen a lot of bank commercials lately offering fast, convenient refinancing. It’s why John McCain will come nowhere near his Republican colleague Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens in the next three months. It’s why Barry Bonds’ endorsement career has dried up.”

More on why his notions are wrong, after the jump.

Uh, because they’re wrong. The why is simple. The current state of American carriers is due 100 percent to the attacks of September 11. Everything that airlines are dishing at us in terms of paying for baggage, pillows, sodas, cookies etc. can be traced back to two airplanes crashing into New York city. It’s not their fault, at least at the root of the problem; as the saying ‘United we Stand’ goes, we have to weather the crappiness together. Nuff said.

Does this suck? Of course it does. It’s almost unAmerican to consider a world in which we can’t get what we want at a reasonable price. Still, the airline biz suffered more than any other following the attacks &#151 in terms of lost revenue, bankruptcies and consumer confidence. It still hasn’t recovered, and it needs a break. Screw ‘staycations,’ go somewhere.

That said, “Time to Fly” reminds us why we fly in the first place &#151 in “Sea Orchestra” so we can appreciate new cultures and “Heart” so that we can have it all (a successful career and personal life). At least, that’s how we see it. It’s how we choose to see it, given the situation. We could choose to be just as ticked off as Garfield, but what would that get us? What does it get him?

By staying away from the subject of airline cutbacks, United is (subversively) admitting that things are bad right now, without going so far as to say so. Clearly, that would be bad business. They didn’t even try to convince us things are good &#151 rather, they reminded us that flying (as a means of transportation) is worthwhile. And when they can afford to, (we hope hope hope) they’ll hearken back to the days of in-flight meals, two 75 pound bags, and courteous flight attendants.

Another point; did Visa stop making ads at a time when Americans have more debt than ever? Does McDonald’s pull back because America is uber-fat? Chevy? Dunkin’ Donuts? We could go on.

The answer is a resounding “Hell No!” The brands that make it are those that remind us to keep them in mind when it’s socially absurd to do so. “We’re still here,” they seem to say, “and we want you to be our customer.” In a sea of silence, at least they’re brave enough to try and say something.The clip gets relevant about one minute in.