Why Corporate Nonsense is Clouding the Message

A few months have passed since the incident, but I still cannot resist reflecting on the astonishing story (and accompanying video clip – just Google ‘United airlines rage’) of the passenger being dragged, literally kicking and screaming, off a plane in Chicago.

No matter how many times you view the clip, it never loses its shock value. The back-story is straightforward enough.

A United Airlines flight from Chicago to St Louis was fully boarded, however the company wanted four seats clearing to enable some of its staff to travel.

So, and we have all experienced this at some time, the company sought volunteers willing to receive compensation in order to take the next plane.

Seemingly, the passengers were desperate to get out of Chicago as even a final offer of $800, plus overnight hotel, didn’t appear to do the trick.

So, straws were drawn and one Dr David Dao, a 69-year-old grandfather, was selected for ejection from his seat.

The doctor refused to budge and so Chicago airport police came on board, physically yanked him out of his seat, and dragged him down the isle and off the jet.

Now, here is the Orwellian bit.

As the controversy quickly grew - fuelled by the video clip of the ejection going viral on social media - the CEO of United Airlines, one Oscar Munoz, issued a statement.

I suspect this intervention will forever be studied in Business Schools - that is as a masterclass in what not to say in such circumstances.

Munoz pinned the blame on our good Doctor for being ‘belligerent’ and describing his violent ejection as being ‘re-accommodated’.

The company lost a cool $1billion off its share price within a day but the reason I write about the issue is the depressing devaluation and degradation of language contained in Munoz’s statement.

If the word ‘Orwellianisation’ doesn’t exist, then it really should.

The United Airlines CEO is guilty of a fundamental subversion of language – violent ejection is not re-accommodation. This abuse of language leads it from being a means of communication, to becoming what George Orwell called, a ‘boot in the face, forever’.

What’s most disturbing is the fact that the final nail hammering has not been the handiwork of political dictators anticipated in Orwell’s works, such as Animal Farm or 1984, but it has come from the corporate world, from business no less.

Orwell’s imagining of ‘thought crimes’ and ‘newspeak’  - War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength – soon became adopted by politicians and bureaucrats.

Read carefully almost any government statement, from any country, and the clues are there.

At best, they form a polemic to ward off enquiry - Brexit means Brexit – at worst, twisted statistics are used to cover off a good old-fashioned porky.

Any hope that business can be different, that the direct contractual and financial relationship between customer and provider, might lead to a clarity and honesty is slowly being eroded by the corporate nonsense encapsulated by United’s CEO.

Almost every morning, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme will include an interview with a FTSE CEO being asked to comment on company performance and prospects.

More often than not, the interviewee, despite the multi-million pound salary package, comes across more as a yapping salesman on commission, desperately weaving shout-outs for their product.

It seems that the evolution of media training has finally ironed out attempts at honesty, and tiresome spin becomes King.

The trouble is that this type of behaviour reinforces the growing disconnect between the haves and have-nots.

Mistrust breeds and the vacuum in trust is then filled by those with malintent, as manifested by recent political earthquakes.

I’m acutely aware of this in marketing a city.

I’ve seen isolated cities promoted as accessible and dangerous places pitched as safe. 

From the start, we have genuinely tried to promote Derby on the basis of fact, supported by third-party endorsements, thus avoiding the crazy claims conundrum.

A quick look at our city marketing materials will throw up our style.

Quotes from credible sources is our modus operandi, the likes of the Financial Times or named investors, backed up with researched numbers - 2.1m people in 45 minutes or 11.8% working in hi-tech functions – which, if tested, we can defend.

Of course, we do want to put the city’s best foot forward which, as a minimum means that in the vast majority of our city photographs and films, you will notice it is always sunny here in Derby UK…