An apology can be powerful tool

Sorry seems to be the hardest word - or so the song goes.


And certainly many brands have found it hard to apologise when things go pear-shaped.

Pepsi illustrated this when their tone-deaf appropriation of Black Lives Matter protests caused a minor uproar.

Rather than issue a simple and sincere apology, Pepsi seemed more concerned about protecting the campaign’s star, Kendall Jenner, to whom they apologised for putting “in this position”.

All too often brands adopt the passive voice when responding to criticism.

“Mistakes were made,” they say.

“Attempts should have been made to rectify matters,” they add.

These dry “sorry, not sorry” statements, straight from corporate legal departments, no longer pass muster in the age of social media when we can all directly demand answers.

But the brands that have cottoned on to the fact are reaping the rewards.

When KFC ran out of chicken across 900 UK restaurants last year, they ran full page newspaper ads with copy that began with the lines, “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal.”

Above the text sat a familiar image of a KFC bucket, but with the letters re-arranged to spell “FCK”.

A well-crafted apology can even convert critics into advocates.

When Coca-Cola replaced their iconic sugary beverage with New Coke in the 1980s, they a faced huge consumer backlash. After a swift U-turn, Classic Coke returned to the shelves and a sales spike followed.

Carlsberg are currently running a bold campaign that finally acknowledges their beer is probably not the best in the world, after all - something that had become apparent in the midst of a craft ale revolution.

This came to light when the official Carlsberg Twitter account started retweeting customer criticism. It turns out this was a clever way to draw attention to a relaunch with a new recipe.

“If you are making an apology, you have to mean it,” according to Chris Gilmour of Beattie Communications.

“And show that it’s having an impact.”

By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design