There are almost too many disastrous marketing campaigns in recent memory that leap to mind. Kendall Jenner, on the wrong side of history, offering Pepsi to a group of police officers; Cinnabon’s ill-fated attempt to memorialize Carrie Fisher by saying she had the “…Best Buns in the Galaxy”; Sony, managing to pull a Chet Hanks 15 years early by announcing on a billboard that, “White is coming.”
It’s not hard to see what these campaigns were attempting to do. Both a sense of empathy and a little levity have been excellent selling tactics in the past.
When a campaign goes horribly wrong, the company responsible often feels the need to apologize and then quickly move on. But like any perceived grievance, an apology is only the start of the recovery process.
There’s no way around making a public apology. Owning up to your mistake is critical, as no one is likely to trust a brand that won’t admit when it’s wrong.
Before apologizing, make sure the ad, tweet, video, or message has been removed. Internet scrubbing alone won’t do as to customers, it may appear you’re simply covering your tracks and waiting for everyone to forget.
That’s why it’s equally important in the apology to include some form of action on your behalf to ensure this won’t happen again. When Airbnb was accused of racial profiling in December 2015, the lengthy, sincere apology letter from CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky made sure to mention that they were bringing in the head of the ACLU to review their platform. It showed that Chesky wasn’t taking the accusation lightly. Even Ja Rule eventually got around to apologizing for the Fyre Festival.
Listen to Your Employees, Sponsors, and Customers
You paid a significant amount of time, money and resources into creating the ad, but it went horribly awry. But if you’ve been in business for a long time, you know there’s plenty to learn from your mistakes. Talk to the people responsible for the campaign, find out what went wrong and make the necessary adjustments.
It’s equally important to listen to your customers and sponsors as well as they are the ones directly affected by what you put out there. You might consider telling your most avid supporters before the bad news reaches them in order to maintain a trusting relationship.
If they’re still considering pulling their support, then it’s time to consider offering some compensation. It’s dangerous to pull away from what support you do have or go dark, as Subway did after the Jared Fogle incident.
Revise Your Plan and Start Over
The plan that you devised is unfeasible now. You’ve enraged (and also hopefully calmed) your customer base and you’re hoping to start fresh with them. Take what you’ve learned listening to your employees, your sponsors and your customers on social media to come up with a dynamic new approach.
The best thing a company can do is to look at their situation as a new opportunity to create a campaign that’s more honest with its base. Like a relationship that’s gone through counseling, it will hopefully have opened new avenues of interest to explore.
Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer