This is an important little story. Not because it is a big deal in and of itself. But because it serves to remind each of us how much power we actually hold as consumers and how, properly wielded, it can actually make for positive change.
Before I tell you the story (it’s short), a word or hundred on how companies and corporations have personalities. Although it can be fairly argued that a corporation doesn’t have a personality, the facts speak differently.
Besides, I have no less the U.S. Supreme Court on my side.
There was a case a while back called Citizen’s United. The Wikipedia summary gives you the general layout of things:
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), is a U.S. constitutional law case dealing with the regulation of campaign spending by organizations. The United States Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation. The principles articulated by the Supreme Court in the case have also been extended to for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations.
To put it in a nutshell, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that legal fictions – corporations – have the same rights as people.
This is patently absurd, but that’s how the corporation/fiction-friendly Court has ruled.
While I don’t think the Court got this right – since it clears the way for the balance of the corporate takeover of America to roll forward – and it is – the decision is somewhat empowering in a sense: It gives us a “legal reminder” that corporations have developed “personalities.”
By and large, the behavior of corporations (as a consumerist) is reasonable and fairly narrow in scope. Most do a passable job of doing whatever their mission statement and corporate goals are. Oh, sure, people like to bitch and moan about Wal-Mart, Lowes – the “big box” stores – but during my pony ride on this rock, I’ve been through hardware and general mercantile stores outside the USA and we frankly don’t know how good we have it.
I’ll give you an example of how emerging country consumers are exploited: Years ago – in my airline VP days – the airline president and I were guests of the national airline of Peru. We were operating charters for that airline (Faucett) because their right to land on U.S. soil had been pulled. They were involved in what is called a fifth freedoms dispute and on the other side was American.
To continue operations, Faucett would land it’s planes (DC-8/62s) in Grand Cayman and our airline (KX) would fly them up to Miami on a charter basis.
It was an arrangement that worked out for everyone. We got more utilization out of our (then) 727s, Faucett continued service uninterrupted to the U.S. and passengers got to stretch their legs a bit walking from one airplane to the other.
Back to the story: After a clear air turbulence experience on an Eastern L-1011 over Cuba, the airline president and I had stopped in Panama for meetings, then flew on to Lima (after a stopover in Guayaquil, Ecuador) where we got the “cook’s tour” of Faucett’s operation – which was very impressive. So was riding jump seat in a 737 going into Cusco – a one-way airport – there is no “go round.”
I’d been a big-city/major market news director at that point for more than a dozen years in Seattle and honestly, I thought I was a pretty worldly guy.
On arrival in Peru, driving from the Lima airport to our hotel downtown, I noticed the television antennas.
Back in the days of over-the-air TV,. you may remember the ubiquitous aluminum TV antennas. But in Lima, Peru, all the antennas had different colors – some very striking. Brightly anodized this way and that. All colors of the rainbow.
Having already been through the electronics whiz-kid part of my life, I inquired about the antenna colors. It made no sense.
Turns out that the hapless people of Peru had never been widely schooled in electronics, or much of anything we’d consider “the sciences.” They had been programmed by marketing people to associate the performance of their televisions with the color of the antenna.
As a result, the antenna color would indicate not only to people how well an antenna would work, but as is often the case in Latin culture, there was also a kind of machismo attached (or not) depending on what color the antenna was.
A red, antenna, I remember being told the red anodized antenna was passionate and the “color of the blood of the bull” and along with gold a gold antenna was considered the cat’s meow. Richer color or some such balderdash.
Other antennas, like blue, or green, would indicate something else. A green antenna would not work as well as a blue one, but the red or gold would outperform them all. Social status was assigned to each color, too.
“Even if they have the same number of elements on the antenna?” I was completely overwhelmed by this revelation. “How could consumers be so stupid?”
Our host was very patient with me – very gracious people Peruvians: “Oh, we just don’t know much about electronics, because it;’s fairly new here. but we’re learning.”
It was a world-changer for me, but it taught more than innumerable of marketing courses since that People are programmed to purchase based on habits and beliefs. Even if their beliefs are stupid, ill-formed, unscientific, or simply wrongheaded.
I have no doubt in my mind that third world countries are still being exploited by this kind of corporate thievery…you just need to know where to look. But care to bet that a great portion of the third world doesn’t still – to this day – buy on the basis of nonsensical claims such as these?
Back to Point: Firing a Hotel Chain
As I have mentioned too many times, Elaine and I are off to Lost Wages, Nevada for the youngest daughter-wedding in November and I spent a few minutes Monday lining up our hotels along the way.
I went through the usual online search – to see what the rates would be for our first night on the road which happens to be Amarillo, Texas. If you’ve never been here, it’s hard to imagine a state so big you can drive all day and still not get out of the place, but that’s the way things are.
My normal process is to find the best deal I can online. Then call the hotel, talk to a human in reservations and get the same deal on the phone. That was I don’t have my credit card information on the internet – something I am very shy about.
I won’t say the name of the hotel, but it’s one we have always stayed in previously when we were on holiday in Amarillo. We like the location of the property – the place is generally spotless – and it’s very close (like two parking lots – from one of my favorite places to eat in Amarillo: Kabuki Romanza. The experience is somewhat similar to Benihana…but the closest one of those would be back in Dallas…
I can’t think of a better end to a day on the road that having teppan style Japanese cooking – and either the filet with scallops or any of the other dishes washed down with some hot Ozeki – it’s just great. After getting up, writing a column and doing Peoplenomics research, that’s about 4-5 hours of work. then 8-hours of driving to Armadillo and I’m done – stick a fork in me – by the time dinner’s done.
So there I was – I had picked the dates and the digital bucket shops s were all saying $127 a night. Satisfied that this was the reigning price for that hotel online, I called the hotel and spoke to reservations.
“Hi. I found your hotel online and here are the dates we want. You can price-match the $127 online price if I book direct with you, right?”
“Well, no sir, that’s not the price. The best price I have for that night is $139.”
“WHAT???!!!??? I can book the same king room online with Bookings.com, Trivago, Kayak and whoever else for $127. Your hotel has to pay these people a commission…I’ve been in the travel game a bit. So your net if I book online with them will be about $120 if that. And here I an – credit card in hand and ready to save you the commission and you won’t rate-match?”
“I’m sorry sir…I have to use what shows up in the computer here. You could book online…”
Suddenly, everything turned red. It was like I was a bull and someone had just waved the red flag in my face. My head dropped. So did my voice. Marlon Brandon-like I continued.
“I’m going to give you one last chance, kid. You either price match or I will never stay in another one of your hotels forever. You are going to lose a customer for life…Are you absolutely sure you can’t price match?”
“I’m very sorry sir but $139 is…”?
[click] I have no idea what kind of excuse this poor SOB was going to offer. But here’s the Big Secret of how to keep corporations from doing stupid things: don’t spend money with them when they do something stupid or insulting to you.
In less than 7.2 times 1012 processor clicks, I got us into the Hilton Garden Inn and saved about $23 in the process. And, depending on how the Hilton’s restaurant on property looks, we may eat there….we’ll see. Over the course of the year, we usually end up in the Hilton Honors Silver category. Which offers an occasional free room-night, so all’s well that ends well.
The point of walking you through this, though, really gets back to Citizens United. If corporations are going to pretend as though they are human, I am now responding in kind. Corporations have to treat me as a human in return. Or I will cut off their money.
It insults my intelligence and offends me very deeply when a hotel will not price-match what others are selling the exact same room for online .
And once insulted, I do the one thing that corporations seem to understand: I take my business elsewhere.
Thus ended the Parable of the Stupid Hotel.
So join me in prayer and repeat after me: “I do not deal with stupid people or stupid companies.”
Until total corporate consolidation is complete, which could be any day now, we still have choices. And if don’t use ‘em, we lose ‘em.
Thought this one was worth sharing:
I have to be honest, I have been cowardly pursuing your column almost from the week after I gave you the Adios so many weeks ago.
Your columns grab me by my brain and gut with the same effect a sensei might have, when at the exact moment of passing knowledge to his Student, give said Student.. The bitter facts of Truth, Beliefs, and Complete Freedom of choosing either!!
You grabbed me hard this morning with your description of how we are each riding ‘The Horse’ of our Rodeo! Mine is getting pretty bruised up and lame, but he/she has carried me through the mountains, valleys, and deserts that you describe as our memories.
Thanks George, your dedication to putting finger to keyboard in the UnGodly early hours of East Texas, is well appreciated by this Cowboy!
From ‘Podunk Iowa’
No problem, Al…and thanks for the note.
There are some pretty good comments over on the feedback side of things – over on the right-hand column there’s a link to comments, too. Just click on one. And never be afraid to write.
All comments are reviewed, but we don’t arbitrarily axe anything that disagrees with our views, only things that don’t fit with the decorum around here.
On that note, off to another adventure of Armful of Data trying to make another Fistful of Dollars.
Peoplenomics Wednesday: “Tower of Babel II or is Information the Biggest Bubble Ever?”
Write when you break-even. And tell all your friends what a wonderful site this is and how they must all visit. Because if you don’t, I’ll send over Guido and Luigi and they won’t be bringing pizza, capisce?