by Brigid Sweeney, Senior Associate, Global Agency Marketing & New Business
People make mistakes. After all, we’re only human. Mistakes are our way of learning and developing as individuals. But have you ever stopped to think about big brands and companies? While they have teams of people working on campaigns, they are still susceptible to making mistakes— the only difference is that when brands mess up, they have to patch up errors and apologize to the masses, publicly. To wrap up 2015, I’ve picked my top three company fails of the year:
This past September news broke that car maker Volkswagen installed devices designed to avoid environmental protections in cars. The scandal affected 11 million vehicles and the company suffered their biggest hit ever. The news was especially shocking since the brand has always upheld a reputation of safety and value, not to mention affordable prices.
After the news broke, Volkswagen’s CEO publicly apologized at an auto show and promised to delay the launch of a few future vehicles. The company immediately launched an internal investigation and took out a full-page ad with copy promising to work to make things right. In addition, the company also offered $500 prepaid gift cards to owners of models affected by the scandal.
- Takeaways: The company started off on the right foot by publicly addressing the issue, apologizing immediately and launching the investigation to get to the bottom of the issue. However, this will just be the start for Volkswagen to rebuild trust and brand reputation. An environmental manufacturing program might be a great place to start.
Luxury department stores make mistakes too. Last month, Bloomingdale’s launched a print advertisement in their catalog featuring a man looking at a woman while she’s turned away with the tagline “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.”
After outrage sprung on Twitter with many users suggesting the ad promotes date rape, a Bloomingdale’s representative released this statement: “In reflection of recent feedback, the copy we used in our recent catalog was inappropriate and in poor taste. Bloomingdale’s sincerely apologizes for this error in judgment.”
- Takeaways: I can’t imagine the brainstorm that must have happened the day this idea was thrown into the mix. Did no one in the room think that this was a bad idea? Advertisement copy goes through rounds of reviews and approvals. Often, if an idea feels wrong or doesn’t sit well, go with your gut instinct, it’s usually right. Apologies are almost expected when brands make mistakes. Bloomingdale’s could have gone a step further by donating or partnering with an organization that helps sexual assault victims.
This year, pen company BIC created a resoundingly sexist social media post that was meant to “honor” women on National Women’s Day in South Africa. The post featured a woman smiling in a business suit with the copy “Look like a girl, Act like a lady, Think like a man, Work like a boss.” Sounds like something straight from the mouth of Mad Men’s Don Draper.
After much backlash, BIC removed the post and issued an apology on the page: “We would like to apologize to all our fans who took offense to our recent Women’s Day Post. We can assure you that we meant it in the most empowering way possible and in no way derogatory towards women. We took the quote from a ‘Women in Business’ blog site. The blog site explains the quote and what its intentions were when it was written. BIC believes in celebrating women and the powerful contribution women make to our society.”
- Takeways: To me, the apology seemed like a “sorry, not sorry” to the audience and it threw the ‘Women in Business’ blog site under the bus at the same time. As noted above, apologies are expected from brands and if you are going to apologize, make it sincere. BIC can use the mistake as a teaching opportunity and work with organizations that help empower young women. While a public apology is a start, BIC should take a note from the new Barbie “You Can Be Anything” campaign, which inspires young women and shows them that they can be anything they want.
I’ve never paid attention to the shape of the delicious peanut butter treat that is placed in my stocking every year (I’m too busy consuming it to care) but this holiday season, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Christmas trees, which have been in production for more than 20 years, looked less like trees and more like blobs.
People took to social media to do what they do best – complain, publicly shame and cause faux outrage over the shape of the Reese’s trees.
“What part of this looks like a Christmas tree?” one person asked. “#christmastree more like #christmasturd,” said another.
What better way to shut down internet crazies than to launch the #AllTreesAreBeautiful campaign – a smart, witty and timely fight back from the Reese’s social media team to proclaim that all Reese’s trees are beautiful.
Reese’s tweeted: “REESES’s celebrates trees of all shapes and sizes. It’s not what it looks like, it’s what it tastes like.” A few of the witty tweets include “Just as controversial, but a lot more delicious #AllTreesAreBeautiful #Treegate” and “Woke up Like This #ThankYou #AllTreesAreBeautiful.”