David Berman Communications
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This decade has 22 minutes?

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Have you ever flown Air Canada? I fly Air Canada more than most. Last week, it was Frankfurt to Ottawa on the way back from Oman (another story coming soon!). And, as on every Air Canada journey, I cynically pressed the most prominent button on the in-flight entertainment system: the “CBC News” button.

Image showing television screen with menu  options

Why cynically? Let me explain: the CBC is our national broadcaster and Air Canada is our national airline, and both brands have much to be proud of, with their internationally award-winning services (and visual identities!). But for perhaps close to twenty years, I’ve been pressing that button only to receive an error message: “This feature is temporarily unavailable.”

Now the thing about “news” and especially the increasingly BYOD world of air travel (where more and more us bring our own movies), is that there is an expectation of professional maintenance crews–whether award-winning journalists or award-winning airplane mechanics. According to an Air Canada employee, the CBC News feature was added in the 1990s with good intentions but maintaining its content proved challenging.

An image showing television screen with text displayed "The feature is currently unavailable"

When does an error message become a lie?

In a world where more and more of us are bringing our own entertainment to the plane (and until the airline figures out how to give us wifi), the “news”–whether it’s CBC’s current events updates or flight-specific info like how close we are to our destination–would seem to be the most important exclusive content the entertainment system can provide.

But what I’m more concerned about is this: when does an error message become a lie? And how does that erode the integrity of the brand?

It’s not that the airline doesn’t have people updating the system regularly. The movies, the TV shows, and of course the ads for lunches that should be free (ads that are forced upon us before each film and each time the system gets rebooted, carefully forbidding us from adjusting the volume*. Don’t get me started…), seem to get updated with no problem.

After how many months is a feature no longer a feature? After how many years is “currently” no longer current?

Of course, this isn’t specific to Air Canada. Do your own products include features you should have removed long ago? Are you guilty of complacency where there are no obvious negative repercussions, leading to slow brand erosion? I know I’m guilty of it on our website.

Whether you’re an Air Canada or a CBC, who spend millions proactively strengthening their brand, or a small design agency with more limited resources, find the low-hanging fruit where small kinks in your messaging and your service promises are undermining your best intentions.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go find three areas on our website where we’re guilty of pretending (or at least we’re in denial) that something isn’t broken. Oh wait, there’s no wifi on this plane. Okay then, part three of The Hobbit it is. Where are those “May contain nuts” peanuts? Showtime…

(*A WCAG 2.0 accessibility failure)

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Reviewed June 5, 2015


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