Trump on Monday morning fired off a tweet directed at Boeing, which has come under international scrutiny in the wake of two deadly crashes of its 737 Max 8 jets in a matter of months. The planes have since been grounded worldwide.
“What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name,” Trump tweeted. “No product has suffered like this one. But again, what the hell do I know?”
What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2019
No product has suffered like this one. But again, what the hell do I know?
On March 10, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya, faltered and crashed soon after taking off, killing all 157 people on board. The incident came just months after a Lion Air flight of the same model took off from Jakarta, Indonesia, and crashed, killing all 189 passengers. The pair of disasters has called into question the safety of the Boeing 737 Max planes and, specifically, an automated software system believed to be at issue in both crashes.
Trump has taken a keen interest in the Boeing saga. After the Ethiopian Airlines crash, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg called Trump, reportedly to try to convince him not to ground the 737 Max planes. The US was one of the last major countries to ground the planes, though it eventually gave in. Trump also tweeted in March that planes are “becoming far too complex to fly” in reaction to the Boeing accidents.
The 737 Max tragedies have ballooned into an enormous international scandal, and investigations into its jets are far from over. Addressing the problem goes far beyond branding.
Branding isn’t Boeing’s problem
What is specifically under the microscope in the Boeing 737 Max jet crashes is the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), an anti-stall system that makes it difficult for pilots to control the plane without being overridden. It’s not yet known whether the MCAS or pilot error caused the crashes; a preliminary report on the Ethiopian Airlines crash doesn’t assign blame, but investigators say the pilots were following Boeing’s procedures properly.
Boeing has said it will replace the software in question in an effort to get regulators to allow the plane back in the air. In the process, it has also found a second software flaw that requires fixing.
But as Vox’s Matt Yglesias laid out (you should read his full explainer), this goes far beyond software: Boeing, in looking to outdo a competitor, made some less-than-ideal decisions about the plane and basically used software to get around a bunch of other problems with the model. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) put a lot of trust in Boeing that it probably shouldn’t have. Per Yglesias:
[The] story begins nine years ago when Boeing was faced with a major threat to its bottom line, spurring the airline to rush a series of kludges through the certification process — with an underresourced Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seemingly all too eager to help an American company threatened by a foreign competitor, rather than to ask tough questions about the project.
The specifics of what happened in the regulatory system are still emerging (and despite executives’ assurances, we don’t even really know what happened on the flights yet). But the big picture is coming into view: A major employer faced a major financial threat, and short-term politics and greed won out over the integrity of the regulatory system. It’s a scandal.
In other words, addressing what’s happened here is more than slapping a different name and some cool new features on a plane.
Donald Trump, branding expert?
Beyond the fact of the president seeming to suggest that Boeing’s problems can be fixed with a rebrand, his self-declaration as a branding expert weighing in on the matter also raised some eyebrows.
Trump has spent years cultivating the “Trump brand,” to varying degrees of success. (After launching his presidential campaign, he declared that he was worth $10 billion, $3 billion of which he attributed to his brand.) Much of his business hinges on licensing his name to various endeavors, ranging from real estate and hotels to steak and vodka. Some of it has been successful (say, Trump Tower in New York), some of it has not (Trump University).
Many people on Twitter were quick to point out the irony of the president weighing in on Boeing from a branding perspective, given that he has suffered various business and branding failures in the past. His companies have declared bankruptcy multiple times, and, as many noted, Trump even ran a failed airline, Trump Shuttle.
Trump’s Shuttle airline lost $125m in 18 months and ceased to exist in 1992. https://t.co/IX2lSLXLL2— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) April 15, 2019
Trump Airlines: Failed— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) April 15, 2019
Trump Casinos: Failed
Trump University: Failed
Trump Shuttle: Failed
Trump Vodka: Failed
Trump Steaks: Failed
Trump Magazine: Failed
Trump Ice: Failed
Trump The Game: Failed
Trump Mortgage: Failed
Boeing’s problem isn’t about branding, and Trump isn’t going to be the one to fix it.