Things You Can't Undo

I was on a private jet flying back to New York from CES in Las Vegas when all hell broke loose. We were at 51,000 feet and starting to descend when the plane began swinging wildly. When I looked up at the cockpit, it was a sea of flashing red warning lights.

When the plane finally stabilized, the co-pilot walked back to the cabin with a flashlight and stared out a window at the wings, furiously scribbling notes. After a quick discussion with the captain, he asked my friend, who owned the jet, to come up and talk.

Five seemingly endless minutes later, my friend returned to the back. "Give it to me straight," I pleaded, "what the hell is going on???" He looked at me calmly and said, "they don't think they can land the plane."



The flaps had lost their hydraulics and failed at different angles. The pilots were now forced to try to guess what our stall speed was. Stall speed is a tricky thing: if you guess the stall speed too high, you fall out of the sky. Too low, and you bounce and crash at the end of the runway. Neither are great options.

I was panicked; I was 24 and way too young to die. I started to think about all the regrets I had, and the things still left to do. At that moment, my friend looked at me, kicked off his shoes, put his feet up on the chair across from him, and said, "Well, I'm 63, I've lived a good life." Then he began reading a book.

We spent the next 45 minutes circling over the water while they closed the airport and dumped our fuel. We finally did a 220-knot, no-flaps landing before a crowd of two dozen fire trucks. We slammed into the ground and stopped 50 feet short of the end of the runway where we were met by the fire chief and police chief.

As painful as it was, I learned two lessons that night I won't soon forget.

1.     Always remember to buy your mother flowers

2.     There are some things that you can't undo

Seven years later, I still instinctively tense up in heavy turbulence. I can't help it. I certainly can't undo the memory.

Many online advertisers have failed to learn this crucial lesson.  They brashly and foolishly ignore it in two key ways:

The Cruise Ship Strategy
Being on a cruise ship is like walking into a Ponderosa Steakhouse... and then having the doors behind you chained for five days.

Many advertisers think of their advertising efforts as cruise ships. They think they are buying a captive audience forced to tolerate obnoxious ads that roll down to block the page, landing pages that force multiple clicks/screens to get to the content, and the worst: pop-unders (are you listening, Expedia???)

Everyone has been trapped at an airport and spent $7 on a bottle of water. Once. Don't confuse a customer's silence with acceptance.  There are lots of places to get quality content on the web from publishers and advertisers who demonstrate respect for their audience. Once consumers believe you are taking advantage of them, they will never forget, and never come back.

Security as Afterthought
By now, most of you have heard about the massive Sony PlayStation data leak. Nearly 100 million consumers had their privacy (and credit card numbers) go up in smoke. While the full ramifications of this breach won't be known for months, one thing is clear: security continues to be an afterthought for a majority of companies.

A recent Ponemon study found that the average company spends more on coffee than on application security...and I have yet to have a good cup of coffee at someone's office.

That same study revealed that 93% of companies had their applications hacked in the preceding 24 months. That's 93%, and yet security hasn't moved past coffee on the priority list. This is reckless at best and grossly negligent at worst.

If advertisers continue to treat security as a secondary priority, it is only a question of when their major breach will happen.

If you are willing to lose your customers' data, you should also be willing to lose all your customers.

Of Plane Crashes and Priorities
Very few marketing execs are willing to burn their calories questioning the security of their systems and customer data, yet no one is more impacted than marketing when the breach finally happens.

Huge security breaches are not the Black Swan you can't prepare for. They are the exact opposite: ubiquitous and preventable.

And. just like with plane crashes, some damage can't be undone.

5 comments about "Things You Can't Undo".
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  1. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, May 5, 2011 at 11:17 a.m.

    What a wonderful bit of writing. Loved the cruise ship line.

  2. Ron Moravek, May 5, 2011 at 1:10 p.m.

    Great straight forward message. Love the story that story that went with it!

  3. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine, May 5, 2011 at 3:34 p.m.

    This is GREAT! Loved the cruise ship comparison, also.

  4. Victoria Bianchini from AdKeeper, May 5, 2011 at 5:51 p.m.

    Great story. My heart was pounding along with you.

    Couldn't agree with you more about web users _not_ being a captive audience. People have tons of other choices and just not enough time.

  5. Ben Munson from Newdigs, May 6, 2011 at 12:56 p.m.

    Great article David. I had never heard the story of your crazy private plane experience. Glad you made it past 24 :-)

    We have had a lot of conversations around customer data security. It can certainly be a daunting topic.

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