We all remember the story from a few months back where the head honchos from the three US automobile manufacturers went to Washington, DC to lobby for their own federal bailout...only they took private charter jets to get there from Detroit.
The tone-deafness of the story left such an indelible impression upon the public that the case even made it's way into two of my recent business classes: Organizational Behavior and Ethics and Business Policy. The repeated mantra was, of course, how could the executives be so foolish and oblivious?
Today, though, the Cessna corporation has seen fit to fire back with a new marketing campaign of it's own: It's OK to Have a Private Jet.
In a print-ad campaign begun today, Cessna challenges business leaders with this headline: "Timidity didn't get you this far. Why put it in your business plan now? In today's corporate world, pity the executive who blinks."
The ad in today's Wall Street Journal is themed "Rise" and says, "One thing is certain: True visionaries will continue to fly. Because in tempestuous times, leaders recognize it's not about ego. Or artifice. It's simply about availing yourself of the full range of tools to do your job."
"It's time for the other side of the story to be told," said Jack Pelton, chairman-CEO and president at Cessna. A spokesman said the ads were meant to be hard-hitting. "I would characterize it as a counterattack on the misinformation out there."
The "other side" of the story that Cessna wants to tell is that business aircraft are used by a wide variety of companies as "productivity tools." Robert Stangarone, VP-corporate communication, cited Walmart as a prime example, with its fleet of dozens of small aircraft used every day by middle managers traveling to stores, warehouses and facilities without easy access to major airports.
This is a really bad move and campaign by Cessna, but not for the reason you might think.
There is nothing wrong with owning and operating a private jet, even in these troubled economic times. After all, a company had to make that jet. It is likely owned by someone--or several someones--and employs a multitude of people in the plane-production process. Plus, even more individuals had to eventually sell, staff, and maintain the plane. Those people all deserve an income just as much as anyone working in the auto or financial sectors. In essence, buying a private corporate plane is your patriotic and civic duty!
Rather than stressing blah-blah productivity or antagonizing your constituent base, Cessna had a theme awash in red, white, and blue at its disposal and it looked the other way, and that is why the company will continue to have a tough time selling its wares and fighting the negative downsurge of the politics of perception.