What could make rushing to the airport, waiting in an endless security line, disrobing for a TSA pat-down, jamming your luggage into an overstuffed overhead storage bin, shoehorning yourself into a too-small seat, and spending several hours next to a chatty political junkie with a wet cough even worse?
Doing all of that … without ever leaving the runway.
If you fly with any regularity, you’ve no doubt experienced the purgatorial misery of being trapped on a plane that isn’t moving. And those long waits can be nearly as tough on the airlines as they are on their passengers: When JetBlue kept full planes on JFK runways for up to 11 hours during a snowstorm in 2007, it led to a public flogging, the loss of tens of millions of dollars, and the dismissal of the company’s CEO. So when a recent Delta Airlines flight was stuck on a Knoxville, TN runway for several hours due to bad weather, the situation promised a PR headache — or at the very least, a planeload of extremely cranky customers.
But instead, Delta turned the predicament into a PR boon. In fact, when passengers were given the option to disembark and find a new way to their destination (Atlanta, which is an easy three-hour drive from Knoxville), not a single one got off the plane.
Did Delta execs promise everyone a $100,000 flight voucher? Did flight attendants hand out IVs of morphine? Did people get a turn slapping the pilot about the face? Nope — the Delta pilots came up with a far more ingenious plan: They ordered pizza. Several Pizza Hut pies were delivered directly to the plane, complete with a police escort (sorry, Tennessee taxpayers), and distributed to everyone onboard. By being fast on its feet and having a sense of humor in the face of a potential crisis, Delta turned a potential calamity into an opportunity to earn lots of positive national press.
And their strategy was no doubt particularly effective with men. When faced with hardship, men tend to respond two ways: First, with humor — just think about all the great (and not-so-great) one-liners Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and their well-oiled peers have unleashed in action movies when faced with overwhelming odds and hails of bullets. Second, men try to identify a solvable problem; any woman who’s discussed a bad day at work with a guy has probably been annoyed at some point by him attempting to solve her “problem” instead of simply listening to her and sympathizing.
That’s why men are hardwired to respond to any brand that reacts decisively, and does so with an action hero’s willingness to make a joke in the midst of a crisis. The crisis doesn’t even have to be of the brand’s own doing. When Alec Baldwin was kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to put away his phone in the middle of a Words With Friends game, Zynga gained lots of attention by tweeting out an image of a game board spelling “Let Alec Play.” And when the power went out at this year’s Super Bowl, Oreo was universally lauded for their near-immediate “You can still dunk in the dark” Twitter ad, which was retweeted and favorited more than 20,000 times.
Of course, not every crisis is ripe for a humorous response — if a product accidentally kills people, guys probably won’t respond to the brand making light of it. But under the right circumstances, a brand’s ability to quickly respond to problems in a lighthearted way will appeal to men as universally as … well, pizza.