PR-Stupid JetSmarter Will Charge Journalists $2000 If They Don't Write Positive Reviews

from the internet-Russian-roulette-with-all-six-chambers-loaded dept

Uber, but for private jets. That's JetSmarter's pitch. But just as Uber has engaged in some questionable behavior in its quest for marketshare, so has JetSmarter. You won't be able to find many negative reviews of the service because any journalist taking a test flight without delivering a puff piece is going to see their bank account take a hit.

The Verge received this highly-questionable offer to "review" JetSmarter.

Upon the execution of this Agreement, Journalist shall provide Company with a credit card and a copy of an ID of the credit card holder (“Credit Card”) and shall authorize Company to charge the Credit Card in the amount of $2,000 should (i) Journalist cancel the trip on the date of departure of the outbound flight or in the event that Journalist fails to arrive at the departure location at the scheduled departure time or other unforeseen delays or (ii) in the event Journalist fails to post the article described above on the first page of this agreement.

That's the terms of the review flight. All this has done is ensure JetSmarter receives negative press that has nothing to do with the service it offers. This self-inflicted damage follows on the heels of the arrest of JetSmarter's former president for embezzlement.

If it's looking to dig itself out of a PR hole, JetSmarter's "play nice or else" terms are nothing more than a $2,000 shovel. Forcing journalists into an agreement like this only makes potential customers question the veracity of positive reviews.

Add to this the fact that JetSmarter has buried a non-disparagement clause in its Membership Agreement and any positive statements about the company become inherently untrustworthy.

Here's the clause from the agreement [archived here in case it falls into a memory hole]:

Each Member agrees to refrain from making any negative or disparaging comments to anyone (either orally or in writing) about JetSmarter or any of its affiliates or their business or operations or any of their respective officers, directors or employees; provided, however, that this provision shall not be interpreted to prevent Member from making any truthful statement to his, her or its attorneys or other advisors, or to any court or arbitrator of competent jurisdiction in the context enforcing his, her or its rights under or defending any action with respect to this Agreement.

This sort of clause is now against the law, thanks to recent legislation. It actively discourages members from complaining about anything, even though it seems to have done little to prevent its Yelp page from hosting mostly negative reviews. There are others who seem happy with the service, but the looming threat of losing thousands of dollars through contract cancellation isn't exactly promoting the free exchange of opinions.

Simply put, the company is in the business of buying positive press with free flights carrying a $2,000 asterisk. For unhappy customers, the potential financial loss can run above $10,000. Whoever instituted these policies clearly has no idea how to handle their PR duties. JetSmarter has pinned a "KICK ME" sign to its own back and is now wandering the internet gathering boot prints -- an outcome anyone with a handful of functioning brain cells should have seen coming.


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  • identicon
    David, 6 Mar 2017 @ 6:44am

    Well then...

    "making any negative ... comments ... about ... any of their respective officers"

    Okay, we're POSITIVE JetSmarters former President was arrested for embezzlement?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 6:52am

    A quick Google News search lists recent stories about JetSmarter.

    I'm guessing that a few reviews have already been taken down by those whose journalistic integrity might be cast in a bad light by accepting these conditions. And even with the conditions removed, it'll stop journalists from writing about them in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    HaroldK, 6 Mar 2017 @ 6:54am

    What?

    These people are trying to start a business, but they don't want to compete; on price - can't say I got it cheaper someplace else, on service - can't complain that the drink was spilled on me and they did not clean the suit later, on location - can't say they are not at an airport that is convenient, on the reservations service hours - can't complain about unsuitable phone center.

    I will just have to go somewhere else I know this is done properly. Now they have no business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 7 Mar 2017 @ 4:40am

      Re: What?

      Or, when presented with the agreement bearing that fateful asterisk, draw a line through it and initial next to it before you agree to it, and be sure to hand the airline people a copy of it.

      Bonus points for recording video without sound of you doing so (without sound video recording private conversations is legal in all 50 states).

      Then if they try to overcharge you, you can point to the fact that they accepted an amended contract and then provided you service anyway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    9Blu, 6 Mar 2017 @ 7:09am

    Missing a vital bit of the quote...

    So reading that first quote I was scratching my head wondering what the problem was. It looks like it just means if you take a ride but bail on publishing a article reviewing the service, the will charge you for the ride. That's reasonable, jet fuel isn't cheap after all and flight crews aren't free. However the Verge story has the key quote that changes the context of that first quote:

    JetSmarter defines that article as “a full-feature article on flight and positive experience with JetSmarter, highlighting the concept and services.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Rabbit80 (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 7:24am

      Re: Missing a vital bit of the quote...

      This needs to be in the article..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 7:39am

      Re: Missing a vital bit of the quote...

      I think we need the full agreement to understand it. We don't know what the requirements for the article are.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Matt (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 7:52am

      Re: Missing a vital bit of the quote...

      The Verge article lists the article requirements from the first page as

      “a full-feature article on flight and positive experience with JetSmarter, highlighting the concept and services."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 6 Mar 2017 @ 8:01am

      Re: Missing a vital bit of the quote...

      I don't think it's unreasonable to require a article in trade for the free ride. That's in line with a lot a free-product-for-review exchanges. However, the disparagement clause along with the phrasing "article on flight and POSITIVE experience" is a cause for some concern.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    9Blu, 6 Mar 2017 @ 7:14am

    FTC Rules

    Also, this would run afoul of FTC rules. Anyone accepting this offer would need to basically label the article as what it really is: an advertisement. The FTC is (was?) pretty strict on how sponsored content had to be disclosed and this reeks of trying to get around that rule. By dictating the content of the article they have even stepped past the "we got this free to review" line.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 7:27am

    Punctuation Correction

    I think you mean, "JetSmart? Er…"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 7:52am

    *...or to any court or arbitrator of competent jurisdiction...*

    Illegality of the clause aside, given that ambiguity in a contract always benefits the party who did not draft the contract, if this were read to include the "court of public opinion," then JetSmarter nullified their own clause with a loophole one could drive a Mac truck through.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 8:05am

      Re:

      court of public opinion

      Given the general temperament of regard these days vis a vi the "us vs. THEM" attitudes, one could argue that competent jurisdiction when it comes to public opinion is fraught with uncertainty and is much in the eye of the beholder. (Or in this case, beholden?)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 8:07am

    Each Member agrees to refrain from making any negative or disparaging comments to anyone (either orally or in writing)

    My commentary will be delivered entirely in the form of video-recorded interpretive dance. I will not be collecting audio and no transcript will be provided. ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 9:04am

      ---The Experience--

      'Orally or in writing' does leave open some interesting options, true.

      'The Experience', Act 1, Scene One

      Scene opens to a well dressed man(Customer) entering a building, briefcase in hand, with planes visible through the windows in the background.

      Customer walks up to the counter, behind which an officially dressed individual(Agent) stands, computer screen off to the side.

      Agent smiles, tapping a few keys before looking quizzically at Customer, who places their briefcase down on the floor and walks around in a figure eight in front of the desk, arms outstretched and making rumbling noises all the while.

      After several moments of this Customer returns to the desk, meeting the now knowing smile of Agent with one of their own. Agent taps several more keys before holding up a hand, rubbing their fingers together as though to indicate 'money'. Seeing this Customer reaches into their pocket and pull out their wallet, opening it and handing over their credit card.

      Running the card through a reader Agent taps several more keys before handing the card back, looking at the screen as though waiting for something. A moment passes before a 'ding' noises is heard, causing Agent to look up happily at the waiting Customer.

      Without changing expression Agent reaches over the desk and delivers a hard slap to Customer's face, smiling professionally all the while as Customer falls back in shock.

      As Customer opens their mouth as though to speak, Agent holds up a finger to their lips in the sign of 'silent', before pointing to the corner of the room behind and to the right of the pair, causing the camera to pan over and reveal several large, clearly strong individuals(Silence) sitting around a table, patiently waiting.

      Agent nods to one of the suited individuals, pointing to Customer, upon which Silence stands up and walks over to the pair, taking position only a few feet behind Customer.

      Looking up at the menacing form of Silence, Customer looks about ready to speak again, only to have Silence hold up a finger to their lips before cracking their knuckles in a suggestive fashion, causing Customer's mouth to snap shut, a nervous gulp heard.

      Customer looks back to Agent, who merely makes shooing motions towards the door, professional smile still affixed to their face as though seeing nothing wrong with the scene before them.

      As Customer walks towards the door Silence walks out with them, raising their finger to their lips each time a nervous Customer steals looks behind them to look at the menacing figure following them.

      As Customer and Silence walk through the door the camera focuses on their retreating backs, with the camera staying stationary as they walk through, the door closing silently behind them.

      End

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 8:31am

    JetSmarter: You WILL Enjoy Our Service, Or Else

    It actively discourages members from complaining about anything, even though it seems to have done little to prevent its Yelp page from hosting mostly negative reviews. There are others who seem happy with the service, but the looming threat of losing thousands of dollars through contract cancellation isn't exactly promoting the free exchange of opinions.

    With thousands on the line, how could they be anything but positively thrilled with the service?

    Beyond such clauses now being illegal, they're also incredibly stupid in that they make any actual good reviews completely and utterly worthless at best. When it's known that a company will punish any customer who says anything bad about them, then all positive reviews become suspect.

    Did they write a glowing review because they actually had a good experience, or because they didn't dare write a negative review? Is their review positive because it matches the experience, or because they had to write it like that or face the consequences?

    Companies who try to control the narrative when it comes to their businesses might think that they're 'protecting' themselves, but all they're really doing is shooting their own feet by making it so that people cannot trust anything good said about them, as it's all tainted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 8:31am

    It would be funny to see a reporter spin this on them in a horrible way. The agreement says you pay $2000 if you say something negative. So just imagine when you see a headline along the lines of:

    "Service so horrible I was actually glad happy to pay the $2000 fee for the right to tell you how terrible it is."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 8:55am

    JetStupider

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 6 Mar 2017 @ 10:03am

    Disenchant your Users + Motivate to Leave

    = Bankruptcy Model.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 11:11am

    Manager: our services have never received a negative review!
    Peasant: How is the review carried out?
    Manager: At gun point but you don't have to fear, the trigger is never pulled if the reviews are stellar!
    Peasant: Sounds like all reviews are very trustworthy then! Could you please lower that gun?

    Jetsmarter, serving incredibly satisfied customers since the XIII century. Look at the gun before disputing the claim.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 4:33pm

    I can see the article now...

    "Last week I received a free flight with JetSmarter. And in return as per the conditions of the free flight, that require me to write an article that cannot disparage or say negative things about them, here is my article.

    I arrived 2 hours before checkin at JetSmarters terminal. Impressively, they only took 80 minutes to process my checkin. I was only held for 20 minutes in a private security cubicle, and the bodysearch wasn't as intrusive as a TSA cavity search.

    Their lounge facilities were adequate, an urn of coffee, tea, and cold water with plenty of disposable plastic cups. None of these overpriced beverage and food shops found in large airlines terminals, nowhere tempting me to spend additional money on books, drinks or food of any kind.

    Since I wasn't in the mood for discourse, I was happy the staff kept to themselves, and didn't interact with me in any manner. No annoying polite conversation, jokes, nothing at all that wasn't a direction regarding the flight. In fact, the staff were so well trained that there was no hovering, it seemed almost as if there were no staff at all.

    Amazingly, we were able to board within 3 hours of its scheduled boarding time. After boarding, I was allowed 90 minutes to make myself comfortable before I had to fasten my seatbelt in preparation for takeoff. This gave me plenty of time to pickup the trash off the floor in front of my seat, and to wipe the crumbs off the seat before settling in.

    After we hit cruising altitude, I was able to relax for the whole flight. Since there was no cabin crew, I wasn't being interrupted by them offering drinks, food or seeing if I needed anything else.

    The flight itself seemed quite short - I think having no warning that we were descending to land, no seatbelt lights going on, knowing nothing until we felt the landing, helped to make the flight feel shorter than it was. The landing was so smooth that only a couple of passengers fell out of their seats. I must commend the crew in whisking away those 2 passengers before their screaming in pain became too annoying."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 7 Mar 2017 @ 4:47am

      Re: I can see the article now...

      Or, you could draw lines through the bad part of the agreement, initial by each line, sign the amended contract and hand it to them. Unless they see you scribbling in it, they're unlikely to read what you did, and if they accept the signed agreement back and then give you service, they've accepted the contract.

      As with any other contract, not reading it is a very bad thing.

      And if you have a video recording of you lining things out, signing the contract, handing it to one of their employees and getting a ticket in return (if the video does not include sound it's legal even in two party consent states) and then you have proof to present in court that their shady contract terms do not apply to you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Eldakka (profile), 7 Mar 2017 @ 5:03am

        Re: Re: I can see the article now...

        Or, you could draw lines through the bad part of the agreement, initial by each line, sign the amended contract and hand it to them. Unless they see you scribbling in it, they're unlikely to read what you did, and if they accept the signed agreement back and then give you service, they've accepted the contract.

        Not quite.

        Any such amendment made on the copy of a contract must be initialed by all parties. If an alteration is initialled by only one party, it is not a valid alteration and the unaltered contract is in force. Otherwise alterations could be made unilaterally by only 1 party after the contract had already been signed.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ronny, 7 Mar 2017 @ 7:34am

    Use the service and post a positive review or it will cost you $2,000. Don't use the service and post a negative review, as Techdirt has done, is free.

    Not a hard choice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Mar 2017 @ 1:08pm

      Re:

      The punchline of course is that no negative review could do more damage to their reputation than their own actions have done.

      A company trying to silence their customers with threats for non-compliance is one that is positively screaming 'We cannot be trusted to offer even passable service, and no-one that talks positively about us can be trusted to be telling the truth.'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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