Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Tracy Morgan and Delta



Brand Winner…

And Loser…




Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week


Winner:  Tracy Morgan


Loser:  Delta




Damage control isn’t a one-size fits all response.  

Folks, just as every brand must be assessed on its own merits and in its own context, a brand’s response to a serious crisis has to be seen the same way.

That’s why this week my “Winner” and “Loser” are two well-known brands that got themselves into hot water and, on the surface at least, look like they’ve gotten out of it –but what’s important is what’s beneath the surface.

I’m talking about the comedian, Tracy Morgan, who scandalized and offended fans with an anti-gay rant during a live performance, and the airline, Delta, that angered customers and the general public with a punitive bag charge for soldiers returning from combat.

Bottom line, both Morgan and Delta responded quickly and affirmatively to the firestorm that they created.  So far so good.  Acknowledging a problem, apologizing for it and then taking strong, corrective action is all part of what a brand must do. 

Delta immediately apologized and reversed the bad policy.  Morgan is still on a very public campaign to apologize and make things right. 

The comedian called GLAAD (The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and the transcript of that call was broadcast by CNN.  It shows Morgan really opening up about his own life and bullying.  He’s also agreed to record a public service announcement for the group and is planning on returning to the comedy club where the audience was offended.

Bottom line, he’s showing that he’s working hard to make amends. 

So why is Morgan the winner this week and Delta the loser?

It’s the nature of the respective brands, folks, and the kind of damage.  Morgan is a comedian and a comedian’s line of work, his job description if you will, is to push the boundaries of what is acceptable.  Those boundaries are rarely clear with comedy, especially Morgan’s style of comedy.  Obviously, it’s usually hard to tell whether the comic is being serious or not about the offensive things coming out of his mouth.  

Morgan was offensive on that stage in Nashville, but it was still part of his act.  This isn’t like the Michael Richards’ incident in 2006 when the former Seinfeld actor attacked audience members with racial epithets.  In that case, that attack clashed with the image Richards presented and it wasn’t material being tested as part of his comic routine.

More than almost any comedian today, Morgan has been paid a lot of money to be offensive.  He is a loose cannon, a force of nature –saying what he said onstage isn’t really too far off considering his brand.

In other words, yes, what Morgan did was offensive, but it was still within the scope of his bad boy brand.  His quick response to crossing this line and even showing another side of himself in making amends will probably strengthen his brand over time, not weaken it.  Certainly most of his Target Market already accept him for getting dangerously close to that line over the years –that’s why they pay to see him.

Now let’s look at Delta.  Delta was also quick to change course and make amends, but the difference with Delta is that charging soldiers for their bags underscored a larger problem of perception not only with Delta but with many airlines: a culture of niggling charges and fees that make the consumer experience less pleasant while putting a lot of extra revenue in airlines’ pockets.

The story that Delta was actually charging soldiers coming home from the front just confirmed what disillusioned flyers were already feeling.  It resonated with their already low estimation of the airline industry and confirmed the suspicion that airlines have been making a killing in baggage fees, over $3.4 billion in 2010 alone according to the Associated Press. For this reason, Delta’s policy toward soldiers quickly made Delta look particularly bad among a bad bunch.

For Delta, waiving the fee is a first step, but the response still resembles the actions of a habitual over-charger getting caught, rather than a brand really looking out for its customers. 

Delta has to go further, much further, and begin to address the bigger gripes that people have with flying today.  Delta needs to show why they are not like other airlines (ideas: start bringing back amenities, more frequent upgrades for frequent flyers, lowering and/or eliminating baggage fees).  Only by standing apart from the pack by addressing genuine customer needs will this brand be able to turn a crisis into a brand-building opportunity.

And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind. 




TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Every response to a brand crisis must be custom-made.








Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *