Bouncing around from city to city is the norm for those of in the research field. We fly through TSA security like it’s second nature, and our airplane seats the EZ chairs into which we recline to clear our heads.
But this flight felt different.
First off, there was an aura on the plane that was wrong for an early-morning business flight. Passengers were excited as they boarded, as if they were boarding Six Flags Twisted Colossus. Secondly, everyone seemed to be signaling to each other with smiles and gestures of excitement, communicating in a silent, sublime language I did not know. Clearly I was on the outside of some inside joke.
Then the woman seated next to me arrived. She was kind enough to ask if the carry-on she stowed beneath the seats in front of us bothered me. The question, I feared, was the part of the cabin-wide inside joke being perpetrate on me. Clearly, my aisle mate was in on it.
Then began a most perplexing parade. One after another, people boarded, paused by our aisle in deference to the woman next to me, and then proceeded in perfect single file to their assigned seats. There were hugs and handshakes, smiles and giggles, all peppered with intimate pleasantries exchanged in Italian.
When at last we pushed back, the kind woman next to me dozed off while reading The New York Times. Not to be outdone, I fired up laptop and promptly fell fast asleep.
It was not until I awoke that I took notice of something familiar in my aisle mate’s face. Though I had never seen it as I was seeing it now – bespectacled and in profile – I was seated next to a dozing Lidia Bastianich!
There was no inside joke in the cabin. Rather, I was the outsider seated amidst a tribe of chefs and the tribal leader was right next to me.
The account planner in me was shocked into vigilance: my flight spontaneously transformed into a clinical testing environment and I was both test subject and object.
The objective of the study: To observe the effect celebrities (branded people) have on the behavior and attitudes of their fans (their brand loyalists).
To be continued…