The Apology Marketing Roadmap

Make a racist comment? No problem. Post something embarrassing to your company’s Twitter feed? That’s a net positive. Comment on a celebrity’s talent? No one really cares. Call someone out for stealing? No sweat.

Perpetrate any one of these blunders and you may be eligible for a public apology boost. From BP to Chrysler, Edelman to DiGiorno, Sony Pictures to US Airways, doing something patently stupid will provide many of the same brand lift benefits you’d get from earned media.

Welcome to the age of Apology Marketing! Follow these three easy steps and you’ll be on the road to apology marketing goodness in no time.

1.     Prepare an Apology Action Formula

BP dumped tons of oil into public waters. Chrysler put an F bomb into its Twitter feed. Edelman called out a thief. DiGiorno implied that pizza is a good reason to put up with domestic violence. Sony got a two-for-one with a racist comment in the midst of making fun of the talent. US Airways tweeted porn. Brands seem to have an unending supply of perfect excuses for “embarrassing” blunders, and the road to redemption is paved with apologetic intentions. And what’s not to love about redemption?

You, too, can start fires with the sole intention of putting them out, and here are a few ways of going about it:

  • Hire a millennial with no experience and an Instagram account consisting only of keg stand photos
  • Insert yourself into a conversation solely based on traffic ignoring relevance at all costs
  • “Leak” an email thread to your favorite press person (have someone to blame)
  • Send the “wrong” email to your customers

The apology, as it happens, is more important than the action. Unless you are a politician (Democrats appear okay on this one) with a penchant for going outside the marriage, you can do almost anything as long as you draw as much attention to your apology as possible. Let’s face it, folks: social media “outrage” is a media term. It doesn’t cost anyone real money and it only lasts as long as it takes someone to send a tweet and move on to watching another video of pandas mating.

2.     Exact Your Apology Execution

Follow these simple rules and you too can:

  • Win the public over (for 10 seconds or so)
  • Earn back trust (if you ever had it, or really ever lost it)
  • Provide fodder for BuzzFeed
  • Make big bucks (duh, US Airways never looked so sexy but it’s not like an airline has to be profitable anyway)
  • Post some REAL social media numbers (all numbers are real)

The catch is you have to make your apology SOUND genuine. Ben Edelman sure sounded apologetic in his note:I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future. I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well.”That is art, professor!

Consider the DiGiorno request for forgiveness "A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting." A million! It’s genius.

The grand poobah of apologies came from US Airways for tweeting porn: “We apologize for the inappropriate image we recently shared in a Twitter response. Our investigation has determined that the image was initially posted to our Twitter feed by another user. We captured the tweet to flag it as inappropriate. Unfortunately the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer. We immediately realized the error and removed our tweet. We deeply regret the mistake and we are currently reviewing our processes to prevent such errors in the future.”

It’s a little formulaic, but it’s just one of their recent blunders requiring an apology. A merger is the apology marketing gift that keeps on giving. Anyone measure the coverage of their apology for not allowing a solider to hang up his uniform? How about the subsequent apology from American Airlines? Now that’s how you post some real numbers!

In the curious case of Amy Pascal, emails were “stolen” because North Korea (really?) is attacking Sony. She didn’t even apologize but rather redirected: "I think the conversation needs to switch to a conversation that a crime was committed, and that things have been stolen from our company that people are profiting from." It worked, and most of the ink glazed over her racist comments and focused instead on her bashing Angelina Jolie in relation to the Cleopatra remake -- research gold lying beneath the non-apology for the North Korean attack story.

Market your apology

Separating the men from the boys in the apology marketing realm is the level of sophistication of the apology marketing plan. Sending more emails to apologize for sending the wrong email is the perfect excuse for generating awareness and calling attention to any number of opportunities. Timing is important as well -- if you plunder on a big news day, you run the risk of being lost in the fray. And always pander to whatever version of the facts the public appears to be clinging to –- actual facts are irrelevant.

On the email front, nothing gives like an errant email to your customer base. My favorite sneaker company accidentally emailed me a sale notification before the inventory was available. Bam! First email about the sale, another email apologizing and a third to notify the inventory was now available. I bought two new pairs of kicks. Hashtag winning!

DiGiorno took the cake (or pie) by unleashing a phalanx of apologies to almost everyone calling them out on Twitter. Nothing says commitment to sorry marketing like adding a personal touch.

And of course, no greater apology marketing plan ever existed than BP’s for dumping tons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. You know your initiative is a success when the South Park guys make a video in your honor. BP’s search marketing budget pre and post Gulf was made public and to this day, a search for BP Oil Spill will yield an ad illustrating BP’s commitment to clean energy. Now that’s commitment, folks! They went from spending thousands to millions overnight! So listen up, agency people: there is plenty of money to be made from helping your client spend media dollars on bringing back the public trust.

My Sincerest Apologies

See how I did that? I use the plural of “apology” to really drive my intentions home. But if you really think about it, how many people really remember the action that led to the apology? At the end of the day, you want people to drink your Kool-Aid, eat your pizza, and fly your airline. Who cares how or why they remember you?

And for the record, let me apologize for any comments I made that anyone took seriously. I was using satire and hyperbole (except the Edelman thing; which truly was a load of crap) to drive my points home. Let me also say that I didn’t mean to upset anyone and in the future I will try to write better.

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