The media, both traditional press and bloggers, clearly have their share of journalistic work to do; many writers and reporters do this job admirably. Sometimes, in fact far too often for my taste, the facts get twisted and turned in such a way as to make a story more compelling or salacious than it would otherwise be; to compound matters, headlines are generally worded in such a way as to draw readers into the story. Sometimes neither is necessary, and sometimes both can be a bit misleading.
Fact: the more readers you can grab with a compelling title or salacious comments means more click-throughs for the site, which ultimately means more revenue.
Sometimes the story gets shaped in such a manner as to ensure that one party ends up wearing the pristine white hat, and the other does not. Drama sells, personal accusations sell, and retractions on page 54 three days later do little to undo the interest garnered by the story’s writer … nor can these retractions undo the damage caused by the accusations themselves. Trust me, I know; I am in a field in which I am interviewed fairly frequently and misquoted almost as often. So when a noted authority on travel matters, Chris Elliott, writes an article entitled
I have to sit up and take notice.
Scandal? It is an interesting choice of words, and one which from the get-go, makes clear his perspective.
The story to which he is referring took off last week. We were one of the early sites to jump on it, so we take some credit (and responsibility) for that. It went viral from there, and in the week or so since there have been close to 300,000 stories or links to stories and an estimated 3,000,000 plus people have been exposed to it in some form on Twitter. Talk about the power of Social Media!! Don’t believe me? Search the terms “SCOTTEVEST Delta” in either Google or Twitter, and see for yourself. Better still, let me do it for you. These are the Google search results, and these are the Twitter search results.
For those of you who are lost, here’s the short story: SCOTTEVEST’s advertisement (shown below) was rejected by Delta’s in-flight magazine; Scott cried foul, Delta wasn’t pleased, and before you could say “sensationalism”, Scott was being accused of having cooked the whole thing up from the start.
He did not.
Judie and I believe that to be a fact.
Here is the timeline of the story as related by Scott Jordan, CEO of SeV, in a post on his company website:
September 26th, 2010 – SCOTTEVEST/SeV Travel Clothing ran this ad in the NY Times Travel Magazine. It received an amazing response. We knew we were onto something with our “Beat the System” message and sought opportunities in other magazines to continue the campaign.
September 29th, 2010 – A last-minute opportunity to appear in November’s Delta Sky Magazine was presented to us. With the success of our NYT ad, we felt we were on a roll and decided to do it, despite the fact that it cost a significant portion of our ad budget for the remainder of the year. It sounded like a home run, and we decided to use the winning “Beat the System” message.
Coincidentally, The New York Times broke a story this week about how much money airlines have been raking in from baggage fees, stating, “from January to March, United States airlines collected $769 million in baggage fees.” It sounded like a perfect storm of traveler angst was brewing, and our clothing was the solution.
October 1, 2010 – We received word that Delta Sky rejected this ad (click here to see it or scroll down to see it on the last page) based on the content. We offered to replace our successful headline, “The Most Stylish Way to Beat the System” with “Travel the World in Style & Leave Your Baggage Behind,” but our compromise was rejected.
It turns out that they didn’t like the other message on the page, “SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing Has Specialized Pockets to Help You Stay Organized & Avoid Extra Baggage Fees” – particularly the “Avoid Extra Baggage Fees.” As evidenced by the recent New York Times analysis of the airline industry, those baggage fees are what keeps them going.
When I was told that they rejected our compromise headline as well, I responded as follows in an email, “Frankly, if they object to the ‘avoid the baggage fees’ line, they need to stop charging baggage fees. I don’t think we should change it. We have agreed to remove ‘beat the system,’ but will not change the sub-heading. The fact that airlines charge baggage fees is just that: A fact. We just help make it less painful.”
Being very connected to social media, and thinking that the situation was ludicrous, I immediately posted my disbelief in a video on (YouTube and Twitter, but honestly did not expect anything more to come of it.
This was when the real drama began. Our media agent (who buys ad placements for us) pleaded with me to take the video down. Apparently, Delta Sky didn’t like the truth being exposed for the public to see. It was communicated to us that we would likely be rejected by all other airline magazines as well, and that this was causing major ripples.
Soon thereafter I was in the middle of a flurry of phone calls - my advisers, reporters and media agent were all trying to get a hold of me. It was clear I had hit a nerve with the video, and my chief adviser Hap Klopp (founder of The North Face) agreed. “Scott, this is classic David vs. Goliath. Their reaction shows how touchy of a subject baggage fees are for them. You’ve found a way for everyday people to get around their crazy policies, and you just put a fork in their cash cow.” Hap’s comments solidified it for me: this was a big story, and the cat was out of the bag.
The bottom line: it became abundantly clear that the airlines would never allow me to advertise a product that costs them money and makes me money. I believe it wasn’t my headline, it was the core concept behind my product that they were rejecting. With that, I decided to embrace the controversy.
October 2nd, 2010 – within 24 hours, the story blew up. AOL’s WalletPop and GearDiary covered it, many reporters expressed interest in it, over 1 million people saw it on Twitter, as it was retweeted by some social media heavy hitters like @scobleizer, and there are over 230K Google results for delta scottevest ad. I may not be able to go on a plane ever again. What’s next… will they start weighing people or counting their pockets to avoid SeV cutting into their profits?
To summarize, yes my SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing helps people avoid extra baggage fees, and look great while doing it. The New York Times, Peter Greenberg, the UK’s ITV and tons of other media outlets agree about that. We even proved this by sending travel writer Rolf Potts around the world for six weeks without any bags whatsoever, just what he could carry in his SCOTTEVEST. Check out the Fox Business News interview about the No Baggage Challenge. Does that give Delta Sky and other airline magazines the right to censor us at the expense of taking money out of the pockets of everyday travelers? No way! This fight isn’t over… we’re going to place more ads telling people how they can “Beat the System” using our products. This is the beginning of the story, not the end, and we intend to keep you informed how the airlines respond.
Let me be clear about Gear Diary’s and my position on a few things before I go any further with this article.
Do we understand why an airline might object to an ad including the phrase”Beat The System” in its title? Yes, we do. I can’t see any company running articles that hurt their bottom line. In this case it was Delta’s magazine which is directly related to their business, and they can choose what stories and advertisements they will run and which they will not.
Do we understand Delta objecting to any references to saving on baggage fees? Actually we do, and for the same reason. Although I also believe that they ought to come clean on the impact of baggage fees in the decision-making process, they have not; more on that in a bit.
Do we think Scott has a valid claim against the airlines when he says that the truly objectionable thing here is the ridiculous baggage fees in the first place? Absolutely, especially when the extra fees were apparently initially instilled as a way to offset fuel costs during a period of heightened fuel costs, but then they were kept long after the prices came down.
Let’s be honest, when Rolf Potts can take a “No Baggage Challenge” and can travel around the world with just the clothes on his back thanks to SCOTTEVEST clothing, SEV’s claim that their products save on baggage and any related baggage fees is proven true.
Any airline that doesn’t reap huge benefits from charging for baggage wouldn’t have reason to be upset with Jordan and his products. But any airline counting on hundreds of millions of dollars income from additional baggage fees is going to be, at a minimum, threatened.
In this case Delta has reason to be concerned, because according to a recent article in the New York Times, they make a tremendous amount of income from additional fees including added luggage charges.
How much money are we talking about?
Get this … according to the New York Times:
Carriers have been increasingly turning to sources other than tickets for revenue as government figures show fares stagnated at 1998 levels last year. Mr. Sorensen estimated in a recent report that the five largest airlines will collect $1.76 billion to check first and second bags, a $117 million increase over last year.
So you can see that one doesn’t have to do much detective work to know that there was a potential conflict in place when SCOTTEVEST proposed an ad which would show airline customers how to save on baggage fees.
It should also be obvious that if a small company wanted to place an advertisement in a far larger company’s magazine, an ad which the larger company felt would potentially impact their bottom line, the larger company could simply deny the ad its right to run in their magazine.
End of story, right? Not quite. You see, recently the story took a somewhat ugly turn when Scott was accused of having planned the entire controversy from the start.
So, in part, I am writing this to set the record straight. Do I think Scott Jordan intentionally baited Delta into this for the sake of the media story and the resultant PR?
In fact, I don’t think it, I know it.
How do I know it? Because at my request Scott shared some of his internal business email exchanges with me. This was after I had agreed to report on the emails’ content without sharing specifics. These emails make it clear that Scott went into this media buy fully expecting that SCOTTEVEST would pay for their ad’s placement with the intention of reaping sales from the exposure of the full-page ad.
Scott was surprised when it was rejected, and he tried to rework the ad in a manner that would be more acceptable to Delta but would not compromise the way in which he has positioned his company and its core message. He was increasingly frustrated to find his ads rejected time and again.
The emails I saw make it clear that this was an honest exchange which occurred in real-time, and it went from bad to worse. This was not some plot by Scott to draw Delta into a pissing match, and it is surely not a scandal.
Although a cynic might use the word scandal to refer to the way in which some airlines have begun to nickel and dime their customers.
The negotiations on the copy were all done on the low-resolution versions before any print-ready art for the ad was even submitted; all was completed prior to the deadline.
Having followed this story from shortly after it began, I can tell you from corresponding with Scott that he was genuinely surprised by Delta’s response to the ad and increasingly frustrated by their responses. But the true shocker came when, along the way, he was told that SEV’s ads might also be blackballed from airline magazines across the board as a result of this.
Let me repeat that, because until now this part of the story has not been publicly shared: in the process of working with Delta, SeV’s Media Buyer warned Scott that he was in danger of having his company’s ads blackballed by all of the airlines. No, it was not a direct threat from the airlines, but this is what Scott’s Media Buyer told him, and based upon that, Scott knew he had clearly hit a far bigger nerve than he ever expected.
I enjoy watching Scott promote his products through his Twitter account, Facebook account and blog. He is a master at using social media to garner attention for his products. But let’s be clear on something:
Was this great PR for SCOTTEVEST? Sure.
Was it a setup? No way.
But with that said, Scott would have been foolish not to leverage this story once it began to take off. He absolutely played it for all it was worth once Delta’s final decision had been made, but he did not create the story.
The story, as it unfolded in the documents Scott shared with me, happened like this:
SeV made a legitimate offer to put an ad into Delta’s magazine. This was done after the SCOTTEVEST ad in the New York Times was as successful as it was. They decided to pursue in-flight magazines because of the travel-related nature of SeV’s brand positioning since last year. Incidentally, that is the same reason that SeV clothing is featured in Sky Mall Magazines, which ironically are on every Delta flight. At the time, SeV was also placing ads in the Washington Post and the Travelers Section of National Geographic.
When the opportunity to place an ad in the Delta Sky magazine presented itself, it was close to the editorial deadline of the next issue of Delta Sky’s in-flight magazine, so Scott and his marketing team had to move quickly to get the paperwork done and the ad ready.
Apparently Delta Sky’s policy when dealing with a new company that wants to place an ad is that they first need to get approved in order to be ALLOWED to place an ad. In order to get this approval, SeV’s Media Buyer sent this representative ad to the airline on his client’s behalf.
Perhaps Delta legitimately thought that this was the actual ad SeV wanted to place, and we can give them the benefit of the doubt here, although the coupon code in the ad indicated it was for/from a different magazine and no high-resolution images of the ad were included as is normal when submitting final artwork for publication.
What we know as fact, however, is that SeV never intended for this to be the ad published. How do we know that? First, the aforementioned coupon code was for placement in the magazine where it ran more than SIX months prior in Men’s Journal Moreover. SeV is heavily promoting their new line of products which just began selling in September, and this ad from Men’s Journal was for an older piece in the SeV line, and the coupon code in it referred to the Men’s Journal. If that’s not enough proof that Scott and SeV never intended that particular ad to be used, then let me add a few more details: As I mentioned the submitted ad included a low resolution image that couldn’t be used, one which was never uploaded to the magazine’s image server (as is the practice), and it was sent by Scott’s Media Buyer without Scott’s final approval. It was simply the artwork the media buyer had on hand.
There is another reason that it is clear that the “representative ad” was not intended to be used, which will only resonate with people who follow SCOTTEVEST closely. The ad which was sent had the tagline “Clothing For The Trip of Your Life”, and it featured, among other things, an iPhone 3G or 3GS and no iPhone 4 or iPad. Just about every SeV’s ad or x-ray photo since the iPad was introduced has featured the device.
This, together with the irrefutable and clear emails confirming this, became the final evidence used by Judie and me to determine – without a shadow of a doubt on our parts – that what Scott is saying is entirely true.
You see, Judie and I are some of the people who have been following SCOTTEVEST products for a good many years, and one of the things we have seen from the beginning is that SeV constantly updates the gear displayed in their unique x-ray view of their clothing. SeV knows that their core customer base, at least thus far, are early adopters. Knowing this, SeV was quick to jump on the iPad band-wagon with iPad-ready clothing.
If SeV were going to spend significant dollars on ad placement in fall 2010, they would do so with an image displaying a current product holding an iPad. It is that simple; the iPad is a huge draw for them, and any current ad would use it as an attention-grabber. The “representative ad” did not, and it couldn’t because it was an old ad.
In short, the ad that was sent to Delta as a representative ad was never intended to be the ad which would be submitted to Delta for publication, even if Delta perceived it as such. It was a placeholder only used as SeV sought to get approval with Delta to begin placing current and relevant ads.
Despite all this, Marialice Harwood, publisher of Delta Sky Magazine states in Chris Elliot’s interview:
To me, it’s frustrating. We said we would run the ad. We said, in good faith, “This is approved.” And then suddenly, that’s not the ad.
Truth is, Delta may have honestly believed it was the ad Scott wanted run, but it wasn’t. If that’s the case then both sides have “truth” on their sides, but only one is claiming a bait and switch took place.
Moving on; Scott’s Media Buyer got approval to place an SeV ad, and then he submitted the actual ad Scott wanted to run. It was rejected.
SeV reworked the ad (within minutes, the emails show). They changed the title to “How To Travel the World In Style Without Baggage”, but Delta objected to any reference in the ad that with SeV clothing you could save on baggage fees, and once again Delta rejected the ad. Realize that no one is disputing that denying the SeV ad was, of course, Delta’s right.
During this process, Scott was given a host of reasons from different sources as to why his ads were being rejected. The most ridiculous of the claims he heard was that the ad was problematic because it referred to “beating the security system”. That is simply funny, since all jackets and vests worn or carried on any airline must go through TSA’s X-ray machines, and Scott is not suggesting anyone try to beat security.
So many reasons were given as to why his ads were being denied that it began to smack of the “spaghetti approach”, where you throw enough possibilities out there and hope that one will stick.
So why was the ad ultimately rejected? Judie and I can’t help but remember how the five largest airlines will collect $1.76 billion in 2010 to check first and second bags. If we were to take the spaghetti approach and start throwing possibilities out there, that reason seems to be the one to immediately stick.
In the Chris Elliot interview, Delta Sky Magazine’s publisher claims that the baggage fees didn’t play into the rejection of the new ad or the rejection of the revised version. But if that’s the case, then why was the revised version unacceptable?
The ad below shows similar “baggage fee” messaging and was used by SCOTTEVEST in Sky Mall nearly a year ago (including on Delta flights).
The airlines’ rep asserts that SeV’s claim that their products help save on baggage fees is a misrepresentation of the facts, since they do not charge for carry-ons. While that is true, it is also true that when flying Delta passengers are limited to one carry-on and one personal item, but they can also carry additional items such as a jacket or umbrella which wouldn’t count against their carry-on or personal item allotment. Any additional items above the allotted number of carry-ons would need to be checked, and in most cases this would mean incurring an additional fee. So you can see that if a passenger were wearing an SeV garment, they could carry a fair amount of gear in the jacket yet still be allowed a carry-on bag and a laptop or camera bag if they so chose.
Which brings us to today, and the claim by some that Scott Jordan did a bait-and-switch with the ad in order to get it rejected and then leverage the social media response.
I asked Scott about this when we spoke Saturday night. My question was, “Did you intentionally switch the ad to leverage a rejection on social media when the ad was rejected?” His response was a resounding “No, I did not switch the ad, however I tweeted the story the same way I often do for most things in my life – with expectation that very few people would take notice.” I know that is generally how Scott handles most events throughout his day, as he is currently at 14,000 updates and counting.
Scott said, “I figured that would be the end of it, and I would move on. But that’s not what happened. Instead, within minutes of the video tweet going live I received three calls from my media buyer asking me to take the video down because Delta was offended. He suggested in no uncertain terms that if I did not do so I was likely to be blackballed from advertising in any other flight magazines. At that point I knew this was a story. Then a post on it was written, and shortly after that you wrote a piece for Gear Diary. I didn’t go into this intending to create the episode. Once it took off, however, I simply picked it up from there.”
So I have to again say …
Was this controversy great PR for SCOTTEVEST? Sure. What company doesn’t want to see 280,000 different stories and links to them including ABC News, the Wall Street Journal and more?
Was it a setup? No way. But let’s face it, once it took on a life of its own, Scott would have been foolish not to leverage this story as it began to take off. He used the story to his advantage once he ascertained that the public’s interest was there, but he did not set up the events which occurred with that goal in mind.
And that returns me to the original intent of this article. Was this a calculated campaign by a media savvy CEO? The documentation presented to me and my familiarity with the company tells me “no.” But things move quickly these days, especially where social media is concerned, and because this is a topic travelers are interested in, the episode soon took on a life of its own. The result has certainly been a lot more exposure than SeV would ever have gotten in Delta Sky Magazine, and it didn’t cost Scott Jordan a penny.
Is all of this a diversion so that people will miss the real story? Judie and I certainly think so. The real story here is that the airlines are raking in billions of dollars on new fees, and evidently they want as little attention brought to this fact as possible. That’s the real story, which truly seems to explain why there was ever any controversy over the ad in the first place. That is the story which must be fully disclosed and told for any of this to make sense.
Of course this won’t be the end of the story; Scott still wants to run ads in in-flight magazines. After all, SeV is now a leading travel-clothing brand, and advertising in airline magazines just makes sense.
So this is what Scott and SCOTTEVEST are going to do next, and yes — you are hearing it here first:
SeV will be submitting ads for an entirely new product, their Carry-On Coat, which has 33 pockets and “can replace a carry-on.”
Before they submit their latest ad however, SeV figures that since social media responded to the first part of their story so strongly, they would begin the second chapter by using social media. What that means is that Scott wants our (by that I mean yours, mine, and all of our friends’) input in the process in selecting the next ad they will submit.
So that’s what we will have for you in the next few days: first, a brand new SeV product that, the ability to shape the ad campaign for it before it is submitted, and — I suspect — more drama.
And as Judie mentioned when she posted her preview of the new SeV line last month, we will also post one of the first reviews of that particular product right here on Gear Diary.