Thursday, March 14

Just Apologize!

We've hit an interesting time in our marketing industry where apologies have become an absolute necessary.  Back just a few years ago, if a consumer was slighted often the brand wouldn't even know about it necessarily and certainly the consuming public rarely did.  It was a one-off complaint on a toll-free phone number or a handwritten email/letter directly to the brand.  It wasn't necessarily a "brand equity" issue.

Well now with social media and all the "pickup" that it has, a consumer complaint can quickly become a knock at a brand's stature and character.  It's instantly public for all the rest of us to consume, share, and pile onto.  It's a big deal.

So imagine when a brand makes a blatant mistake!  The pile-on is instantaneous and the damage can be severe.  If it's not handled right.  It becomes not only a social media crisis but a brand equity crisis as well.  We do a lot of this work at the agency, so I've got teams of people that have taught us all so well!

There have been two interesting examples just in the last couple of weeks that are worth learning from.  Brands that have clearly made a mistake, a lapse in judgement, and we need to learn from how they handled it.  Remember, marketing is a spectator sport!

Amazon:  the online mega-retailer released a series of t-shirts in the "Keep Calm" series which, let's just say, were shockingly inappropriate.  So inappropriate that it's hard to imagine that it could have possibly happened.

 Anthropologie:  the clothing and home goods retailer released a limited edition set of candle sticks which, let's just say, were shockingly inappropriate.  So inappropriate that it's hard to imagine that they could have gotten through the system.

Complaints roared in ... roared in like a lion ... almost instantly.  They took on a life of their own, and got written up in blogs and articles all over the internet.

What were a lot of the write ups about?  How the brands responded, or didn't respond or how quickly they didn't respond.  The commentary was more about how the brands handled the mistake rather than the mistake itself.  One tweet I saw kind of captures the sentiment, "mistakes happen, but failure to apologize is a big #fail."

The mistakes that both brands made was a failure to apologize, sincerely apologize, and apologize quickly.  In many cases, that's all that really needs to happen.  Apologize and make up for it if at all possible.  Mistakes like these are clearly a gap in the system somewhere ... so acknowledge it, take responsibility, rectify it, say you're sorry, and make it up to people.  Most of us would doubt that it was ever intentional, so just say you're sorry.

It's what you would do if it happened personally, right?!?  Brands have many personal characteristics, so acting like a human is a step in the right direction.

Just say you're sorry.  What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President, Cohn & Wolfe NA
Author, The Experience Effect series
President, Cohn & Wolfe NA


  1. I really like your notion of saying it simply and quickly. Getting in front of it is important, but striking the right tone in 2013 for "not-overdoing-it-but-being-sincere" is still tough.

  2. Jim, in a recent #socialPR column (for Windmill Networking), I extracted information from the Masters of Disaster book, relating to online crises. You might find this interesting:

    Regarding the increasingly demanded video apology, I found this information in Masters of Disaster quite useful and interesting:

    “In admitting a mistake, the sooner you express regret, say you are sorry, or give an apology, the more effective the admission. To underscore this point, consider an October 2011 Wall Street Journal online analysis of the recent trend of high-profile CEOs battling crises who take to YouTube to explain their situations. The Journal specifically focused on the evolving art form of the YouTube apology, including examining the time in each video it took the CEOs to actually utter the word “sorry.” The Journal’s review leads to the conclusion that the sooner in the video a CEO apologizes, the more effective the YouTube apology.” p. 99

  3. So fascinating! Speed is key to authenticity! Jim.