Cosmo Screwed Up — But Maybe Not in the Way You’d Think

It’s been quite the week for lessons in brand protection, eh?  Between a United Airlines passenger being dragged off his flight and Cosmopolitan releasing an article detailing one woman’s weight loss journey, which included being hospitalized and treated for cancer, it’s probably not a fun time to work in public relations for either company.  I mean, I love a challenge as much as the next guy or gal, but sheesh.

I won’t get into whether United was warranted in having a man dragged off the plane because maybe it is in fact within their policy to do so; I’ve read conflicting stories and haven’t investigated to know which is the case.  Besides, it’s possible the passenger resisted other more reasonable efforts to the point of leaving them no choice; I wasn’t there, so I really can’t say.  Having previously spent many, many years in retail management, I have to wonder if this was really the only way since there is almost always a reasonable compromise, but this could be the exception to the rule.

Back in August, I flew United roundtrip from South Carolina to Oregon and back.  It was the first time I’d ever flown with the airline, and my experience on the way was pleasant enough.  Things took a nosedive on my way home though, when a flight delay caused me to miss my connecting flight in Houston, resulting in me having to spend the night in the airport and take another connecting flight the next day in Chicago.  I wasn’t upset about missing the flight.  Honestly, my friends and family will vouch for the fact that I’m totally laid back about things like this, too laid back even.  Plus, I love airports.  This was like a childhood dream come true.

What annoyed me is that I arrived at the terminal two minutes after our departure time.  Two minutes.  And I was flying with the same airline.  Maybe I’m asking too much, but it seems they could have communicated with on another and waited the two minutes.

Anyway, I wasn’t feeling the best about their customer service at that point.  The attendant at the airport who helped me rebook a flight back to South Carolina was kind, but I was surprised they couldn’t offer a hotel voucher or even a meal voucher for the trouble.  In any case, in all fairness to United, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived home to an apology letter from the company along with a $150 Visa gift card, no strings attached.  It didn’t make up for the day I lost catching up on flights, but the gesture gave me a better feeling about United, enough that I’d be willing to fly with them again and trust them to make it right if they provided poor service.

That said, I wasn’t dragged off a flight either.  They were asking for volunteers to take a later flight in Chicago, and if they hadn’t had people step up, they may have had to pry me out of my seat kicking and screaming too.  I had slept on a hard, concrete floor.  I was wearing day-old clothes.  Everything I packed was in a checked bag that somehow made it onto the flight even though I’d been left behind the day before.  So I could see how one could become resistant to being removed from their flight.  I could also see how this would create a safety issue that the airline couldn’t just “let slide,” and therefore, they’d have to make a tough decision.

I guess what I’m saying is this obviously doesn’t look great for United, but I can give them the benefit of the doubt here.

The Cosmo case gets a little greyer for me, particularly because you’re talking about cancer, a subject close to many of our hearts.  I went back and read the article in question after it became the subject of scrutiny, but as I understand, some wording had been modified since its original publication.  So maybe I’m missing part of the story, but from my angle, it isn’t really the content itself that’s disturbing.  I’m okay with a story that talks about one woman achieving her weight loss goals while simultaneously fighting for her life.  In spite of it, really.

In my opinion, it encompasses the fighter spirit of those who’ve bravely fought cancer.  It tells the story of someone who didn’t let an illness defeat them, someone who learned to love themselves at a time when it would be easier to give up.

My problem is the title of the article, which was something like How to Lose 40 Pounds Without Exercising.  (It has since been changed, by the way.)  And the problem with that isn’t just that it promotes the unhealthy ideal that weight loss is the goal, not health.  The bigger issue is that it suggest that’s the most important thing you’ll get from reading the article:  That you can lose weight without exercising.  Even if you have cancer.  Maybe even because you have cancer.  I mean, given the title of the original article, should readers deduce that Cosmo is suggesting that cancer may be the solution to their weight loss struggles?

The magazine changed the title of the article to A Serious Health Scare Helped Me Love My Body More Than Ever.  That still has a little bit of an ick factor because it suggests the illness aided in self-love by allowing her to lose weight.  It’s better than the first title (or is it?  Now I’m not so sure…), but something like, I Kicked Cancer’s A** and Achieved My Goals Too! might come closer to matching the spirit I can only hope they intended when they wrote this article.

But hey, that’s just my opinion.  Do you have a different one?  If so, I’d love to hear it.

Meanwhile, let’s all take a moment to remember something Shakespeare wrote:  All the world’s a stage.  Dance like no one’s watching on your own time, but in your work, assume everyone is watching (because more than likely, they are!).



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