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Brand Damage Control: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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These days, any brand with a social media account can tap out a ‘heartfelt’ apology when they mess up. But some brands have shown us that, with a pinch of clever marketing, it’s possible to turn a major fail into positive press.

However, some have gone the other way, and made a hash of the very thing intended to get them off the hook in the first place… In this blog, we look at a few brands that have got damage control down to a T. And a few that have managed to make things considerably worse for themselves.

KFC

It was, perhaps, the most overblown, fried-chicken-related scandal of all time. In February this year, KFC’s new logistics guys, DHL, dropped the ball, big time. Many of the fast-food chain’s outlets were forced to close their doors due to massive delivery disruption. You could blame DHL for foul play. Or you could point the finger at KFC for winging it when it came to choosing new couriers.

Needless to say, the British public got rather eggy. However, the Colonel’s feathers were far from ruffled. Instead of simply making a public apology, KFC turned bad press into good vibes with a clever marketing campaign concocted by Mother London. The ‘We’re Sorry’ ad ran in The Sun and Metro, but ended up doing the most damage control online, where it was liked and shared by hundreds of social media users. We love the ad for its simplicity, and for how it gets to the heart of the issue without chickening out.

Apple

Apple should not only be synonymous with ‘great products’ and ‘great branding’, but ‘great damage control’ too. When Tay Tay called out Apple for a royalties issue, the tech giant stood up and listened. Swifty took issue with Apple Music’s payment policy in June 2015. In an open letter, the singer expressed her disappointment with the brand for refusing to pay artists royalties during customer trial periods. Within 48 hours, Apple had reversed the offending policy. Better still, it let the world know about it in a way that showed they didn’t just have T-Swift’s back, they had the backs of indie recording artists across the world.

Tylenol

This isn’t a very pleasant story, so we won’t go into much more than the basics. In 1982, seven Chicagoans were poisoned after bottles of Tylenol were laced with cyanide. The crisis led to fundamental changes in the way businesses are required to package medication, and tamper-proof bottles are now industry standard. Naturally, the company behind the Tylenol brand – Johnson & Johnson – had some serious damage control to do.

Motivated by safety rather than by financial concerns, it immediately recalled 31 million bottles from shelves across America and issued a public health warning. Then, in addition to taking back the power with some tactical PR, it re-launched the product, issued money-off coupons and introduced a new pricing structure. Its customer-centric approach quickly got them back in the nation’s good books. It did such a good job that it later hosted a clinic about how to react to worst-case business scenarios.

Protein World

You’ll probably be familiar with the ‘Are you beach body ready?’ campaign from 2015. The tagline was accompanied by an image of a model in a bright-yellow bikini. But it wasn’t the eye-catching colour that got the public’s attention. People were angry because of the way the ad objectified women, and how it suggested only skinny bodies are good enough to be shown off in public.

Basically, it caused a lot of people to feel really rubbish about themselves. But the insults kept coming. Responding to comments on Twitter, the slimming brand asked, “and it’s OK to be fat and out of shape instead of healthy? We are a nation of sympathisers for fatties #DoesntHelpAnyone”

Note to Protein World: If you get called out for body shaming, don’t make things worse by then using the word ‘fatties’ to describe overweight people. It does not count as an acceptable apology. Congratulations, though. Your poorly-thought-out campaign and insensitive comments have landed you a top spot on our leaderboard of biggest brand blunders ever.

Dove

Dove calls its website the home of real beauty. Its mission statement: to make beauty a source of confidence, not anxiety. And we’ll give it to Dove, it’s usually extremely good at representing women of all shapes, sizes and ages. Unfortunately, it’s not great on keeping it together on the racial inclusivity front. Over the past few years, the brand has been at the centre of numerous advertising debates concerning the topic. But the team at Dove don’t seem to be learning from their mistakes.

Let’s take the latest instance from October 2017. Dove’s advert for body wash showed a black woman removing her shirt to reveal a white woman underneath. The implication being that the white women represent the cleaner, purer, post-shower ideal. Instead of apologising in any sort of meaningful way, the brand issued a statement stating that it had simply “missed the mark”. Of course, this brush-off didn’t go down well on social media. Many people took the opportunity to highlight Dove’s past mistakes, calling them out for being repeat offenders and insensitive towards women of colour.

Krispy Kreme

Picture the scene. It’s November 2017. Purveyor of all things fried and fancy Krispy Kreme is advertising a large-scale giveaway across their social channels. The swag? 36,000 doughnuts. Unfortunately, the company’s plan had a rather large hole in it. As a result, Krispy Kreme managed to upset almost the entire population of London in just one afternoon. So, what happened?

Well, its arrangement with Uber Eats fell at the first hurdle. The app simply didn’t work. Many people who did manage to locate free doughnuts had their freebies mysteriously disappear from their baskets moments later. People were left hungry. They were angry too. You see where we’re going with this. Unfortunately, Krispy Kreme didn’t do much to alleviate the problem. It wasn’t prepared to deal with the backlash on social media, so took to simply re-tweeting the small handful of positive tweets it did receive. Which angered the masses even further.

There’s no sugar-coating it: the stunt left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth. All said and done though, the guys at Krispy Kreme are masters of copy, so we’ll let them off.

 

There you have it. Our pick of the best and worst examples of brand damage control. The moral of the story? It’s not the messing up that counts – it’s how you handle your mistakes that matters. Which is also a great attitude to have when it comes to dieting, we think.
We don’t know why, but we’re having a sudden craving for doughnuts and fried chicken…

 

Sam Emmett

About the author

Midweight Copywriter. Keen hiker. Mother of one slightly annoying cat.

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