November 9, 2020
Whether it be the 2017 Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad or Peleton’s 2019 Christmas campaign, out-of-touch marketing from brands and corporations is all too common and frequently misses the mark, offending consumers. With social media making it easier than ever before for consumers to hold brands accountable for missteps, it is essential that companies own and publicly address their mistakes and familiarize themselves with issuing apologies.
Although apologizing seems like an obvious and straightforward approach to preserving a brand’s image, many companies still get it wrong. Botched corporate apologies often come as a result of a failure to admit wrongdoing or an attempt to assign blame externally. Insincere apologies will only create more damage to brand image and make ensuing apologies less impactful.
To survive in the era of smartphones, online reviews and social media, having a plan in place to own and correct mistakes is critical. Below are some key components of a successful high-profile apology.
Denial Has No Place in an Apology – Take Accountability
Refusing to take accountability is a defensive mechanism and is simply human nature. But, this impulse is what often leads brands astray when issuing public apology statements. Brands that respond to consumer backlash with denial and excuses appear to be redirecting blame, which often causes further controversy and damage to company image.
Instead of getting defensive, brands should respect the feelings of their consumers and take accountability for the harm they’ve caused. Everyone can relate to how difficult a sincere apology can be, and consumers will appreciate a company’s willingness to accept blame and appear vulnerable in an extremely public setting.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Another critical aspect of a successful brand apology is sounding human instead of like a corporation. Companies should avoid using overly conservative professional language or jargon when issuing public statements, as this will come across as disingenuous and calculated.
Simple language is always better in these cases because it sounds more sincere. Saying “I’m sorry if I offended anyone,” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” comes off as deflective.
For example, after Peloton received backlash over its 2019 Christmas campaign, the company issued a statement that said: “While we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial, we are encouraged by — and grateful for — the outpouring of support we’ve received from those who understand what we were trying to communicate.” Unsurprisingly, the company continued to be criticized and ridiculed on social media following the statement.
A straight-forward “I’m sorry” will always go a lot farther than a backhanded apology.
Make a Plan – And Stick to It
Last but not least, actions speak louder than words. A crucial component of any brand apology is a promise to do better in the future. Consumers want to see that the company apologizing has reflected on its mistake and come up with a thoughtful and action-oriented plan to prevent future missteps.
However, the work must continue after the apology statement has been issued. Brands must make good on their promise to do better and actively demonstrate to their consumers that they are committing to the plan they set for themselves to become a more responsible organization. Failing to do so will likely result in, well, another apology.