The other side of the Scottevest scandal: Did Jordan try to get his “beat the system” ad rejected?

It’s hard to find an airline blogger who hasn’t reported on the Scottevest scandal. Late last week, Delta Air Lines’ in-flight magazine turned down an ad for Scott Jordan’s jackets — an ad that offered a way to “beat the system” that requires air travelers pay for their checked bags.

Jordan has been aggressively pitching media, including me. Over the weekend, he left a message on my cell phone that promised “the backstory is more interesting than what’s been printed.” (See an updated comment from Jordan at the end of this interview.)

I was intrigued. Since Jordan has told his story to everyone already, I thought I’d try to get Delta’s side of the controversy. So far, the carrier has only issued terse rebuttals to Jordan’s claims, citing its policy of keeping business transactions confidential. I asked Marialice Harwood, publisher of Delta Sky Magazine, if she could fill in some of the gaps. Here’s our interview.

Can you give me the Reader’s Digest version of what happened?

On Wednesday of last week, our sales rep in New York received an inquiry from an agency, asking if they could get a page in the November issue of Sky. We asked if we could see the actual ad, which is standard when we have a new advertiser, and especially if we can’t tell what the ad is by the name.

We saw the ad, and we approved it.

Wait. You approved the ad?

Yes.

[Note: Here’s the original ad.]

What happened then?

They came back to us, and said we are going to need an extension. They said they needed to tweak a few things. But we had already seen the ad and approved it. We made it clear to them that the revised ad would need to go through the approval process, too.

Are your standards for ads spelled out anywhere?

Yes. On our rate card, it says all advertising is subject to approval. Under payment terms, it says the content and placement of all advertising is subject to Delta Air Lines approval. It says, we recommend all images and verbiage be airline/flying friendly to facilitate this practice.

What kind of changes are normally made to an ad?

This close to deadline? The changes are normally very small. Maybe someone has put the wrong ad code or they need to fix a date. I’ve never seen a revision like this.

What was your reaction when you saw the new ad?

[Note: Here’s the new ad.]

When I saw the second ad on Friday, I looked at the headline, and it said, “Beat the system.” And I said, “I’m not comfortable with that headline.” Beat the system? This is a vest that you’re going to go through security with. Here’s a last-minute ad, we’re right up against deadline.

I wanted Delta to take a look at this. And Delta concurred with me: This isn’t an ad that we want to take. We want to be talking about the positive things that go with travel. It just didn’t meet our standards.

There have been allegations that you were somehow protecting Delta’s revenues from luggage fees. By way of full disclosure, I’ve been very critical of luggage fees in the past, so I can see Jordan’s point.

Never. I’m not aware of what Delta makes from baggage fees. It didn’t cross my mind. It was just kind of my own reaction.

Then came the social-media campaign. What was your reaction to that?

I was shocked. We try to do things right and be fair. We were disappointed. Nothing like this has ever happened to us. My experience is that people understand full well why their ad isn’t accepted. I was upset, because when I read what Scott said, it didn’t match how the business was being transacted.

What other kinds of ads have you rejected?

Well, there was one for relieving air sickness. Why would an in-flight magazine promote an airsickness medication? Another company tried to place an ad that suggested passengers would be uncomfortable in a middle seat. We didn’t take that ad, either.

I want everyone on the plane to be enjoying the magazine. Why would you want to open a magazine and have that pointed out to you, that a middle seat is uncomfortable? We don’t want anyone to speak about our business in a negative way.

The other side has tried to portray this as a ‘David vs. Goliath’ confrontation. Your thoughts?

I don’t know about that. It was me and another person making this decision. There was no motive to impinge upon anyone’s ability to sell his vests. We had accepted his ad. He made a switch at the last minute. It was only then that we had to say, “Sorry, this is inappropriate.”

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.

I imagine some people reading this might think Jordan intentionally changed the ad, hoping it would be rejected.

Once people read this, they are free to draw their own conclusions.

Update (4:45 p.m.): I spoke with Jordan. He says he did not try to get his ad rejected. He says his media broker submitted an “outdated” ad, and when it realized its mistake, he swapped it out.

Jordan’s understanding is that they were asked to submit a “sample” ad — not the actual ad — on Wednesday. He says two days later, on Oct. 1, his company replaced it with the ad that was eventually rejected.

“I did not intend to do a bait and switch,” he says. “I did not want the ad rejected.”

Jordan says he tried to change the ad once it was rejected, but couldn’t negotiate a resolution.

Update 2 (10/7): Jordan has contacted me again. He’s asked me to write a follow-up story. He believes he deserves a chance to say that he did not intentionally submit the wrong ad, is given an opportunity to explain the process of buying ads, and is allowed to clarify how he pitches media.

I see things a little differently. This Q&A was Delta’s opportunity to tell its side of the story after Jordan had been talking with media about his ad problems for several days. I stand behind the interview. I don’t think there’s a need for another story unless something newsworthy happens.

But I might be wrong. So I’m putting this to a vote.

Update 3: The votes are in.

In the meantime, there’s been another follow-up story that addresses Jordan’s concerns.

(Photo: Alex/Flickr Creative Commons)

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