United Breaks Guitars

Posted: 20 Apr 2010

See all articles by John Deighton

John Deighton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit

Leora Kornfeld

Harvard Business School

Date Written: April 12, 2010


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 $3500 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.

Suggested Citation

Deighton, John and Kornfeld, Leora, United Breaks Guitars (April 12, 2010). HBS Case No. 510-057; Harvard Business School Marketing Unit. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1593015

John Deighton (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Leora Kornfeld

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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