Marketing your apology

Domino’s Pizza had this crazy deal when I was in college — I don’t remember what it was now but I just remember that we’d order pizza by the boatload. (Oh how I long for my college-age metabolism again!). I didn’t have a problem with Domino’s Pizza at the time; it was hot, delivered fast, and tasted fine to me… but I have to admit that my “good-fast-cheap” filter was heavily weighted on the side of “cheap” in college.

Recently, Domino’s released a marketing campaign in which they admitted that their pizza wasn’t that great and they committed to improving the quality and taste. It’s a bold move! They could have slowly transitioned their pizza and their marketing into a different bracket. Instead, they they made a full-stop and marketed their apology.

Using apologies in marketing is risky. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It will be interesting to see how it works. It could really benefit them as people appreciate their candor and desire to improve. Or, it could backlash, which is nicely expressed by Kelly O’Keefe of the Brand Center at the Virginia Commonwealth University: “By doing that they are basically saying, ‘We’ve been shovelling you crap for years and now we want you to trust us’.” (Source: Yahoo! News — “Domino’s revamps cardboard pizza”)

There are other companies that have used apologies in their marketing — some well, some not so well.

Anyone remember “New Coke”? I remember the commercials in which they talked about switching to create a better tasting Coke… and I remember the apologetic commercials afterwards when they switched back.

Back in 1999 or 2000, I was doing some work with TD Waterhouse, the discount brokerage division of TD Bank. I remember that their system had gone offline for a while one day and orders weren’t placed the way they should. A couple of days later, an open letter from an executive at TD Waterhouse to all customers was published in at least one national newspaper apologizing for the problem and assuring people that they would fix it.

The New Coke and TD Waterhouse apologies were legitimate, heartfelt, and seemed less like marketing than authentic apologies. Domino’s, in my mind, tends towards this as well because of how honest it is.

I once worked for a full service stock brokerage that used intentional apologies in their marketing. I can’t give away their script (it is, after all, one of their current marketing techniques) but I can tell you that the telephone pitch started like this: “I wanted to call and apologize to you, Mr. Customer” and then it basically used a sort-of reverse psychology to get the customer to agree to meeting more often with the investment representative. [Disclosure: I didn’t have the stomach for that kind of sale so I left and became a writer].

Stefan Pollard has an interesting article at ClickZ about email-based apologies and when businesses should and shouldn’t send them out. Read: “Bad Apology Emails Have Long Tails Too” at ClickZ.

And here is a great article by Allen Stern that talks about the public corporate apologies of Vimeo, Monster, and Apple. Read: “The Good, The Bad, and The Marketing Ploy” at Center Networks.

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