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How about this for an apology?
"We are sorry that you were upset by the image. We need more snowflakes like you guys in the world – albeit in the Russian Arctic rather than on Twitter."
Hardly grovelling is it?
And then there was this from the same brand:
“By all means, accuse us of bad puns, being offensive, or being morally bankrupt. We don’t mind offending Gant-wearing, snooty agency types.”
Apologies implying offended parties are‘snowflakes’ are not the norm for brands facing what many thought was a crisis media management incident.
But then the brand in question here was notorious mischief makers Paddy Power.
The Irish bookmaker caused something of a stir last week with its World Cup advertising campaign which included linked footage of it seemingly tranquilising a polar bear and spraying the St George’s Cross on its side.
The typically provocative campaign, which included a pun-filled wrap around the free Metro newspaper under the headline ‘England ‘til I dye’, sparked almost immediate outrage and a fierce social media backlash.
An endangered polar bear tranquilized & painted with a symbol as a publicity stunt by a betting company? If this is a real #WorldCup stunt, @paddypower needs to feel the heat. Betting promotion shouldn't equal animal cruelty. Place your bets elsewhere. #boycott— paularead (@paula_read) June 6, 2018
Whoever does Paddy Power’s PR needs to be sacked. Disgusting that they think it acceptable to spray paint a polar bear with the George Cross. Who in their right mind would think animal cruelty is a good way to promote your business??— Brett Walton (@TFCBrett) June 5, 2018
An article in Campaign, a news website for the advertising and marketing industries, claimed that the campaign was ‘morally bankrupt’ and that the people behind it should be ‘hanging their heads in shame’.
It said: “This latest work doesn’t just cross the line of what’s decent in advertising, it clumsily barges through basic human decency and I hope some people are hanging their heads in shame this morning.”
It’s similar to the language which was used to describe Lush’s recent ‘spycops’ campaign. But while the intentions of that were initially unclear, the bookmaker’s effort was deliberately misleading.
It subsequently turned out that the video footage was a hoax and that as well as raising awareness of its World Cup betting, the campaign was also an initiative with Polar Bears International to raise awareness of the carnivore’s declining habitat in the Russian Arctic.
Unlike the Russians, we're actually trying to help these magnificent beasts. There's more to this than meets the eye: https://t.co/MjyPKwmmpI— Paddy Power (@paddypower) June 7, 2018
Everyone is talking about the World Cup, but nobody is talking about endangered polar bears in the Russian Arctic. With the blessing of @PolarBears we pretended to spray-paint one to help raise awareness… #PaddyPolar pic.twitter.com/Xt35L8BcWb— Paddy Power (@paddypower) June 7, 2018
The spray-painting didn’t happen – just as the company didn’t ‘shave the rainforest’ in the build-up to the last World Cup in Brazil.
With the explanation came the very tongue-in-cheek apologies mentioned above. Although, from some of the headlines, you would have thought that the company had actually issued a full, resourceful apology.
‘Paddy Power says sorry for controversial polar bear campaign after social media backlash’ said Campaign, possibly reeling from having earlier carried an opinion piece with such a strong stance about the promotional activity.
Now, Paddy Power is no stranger to controversy – it does actually employ someone with the title head of mischief - and its ‘sorry not sorry’ comments go way beyond how the vast majority of brands would feel comfortable responding.
But there is, in my opinion, something that can be learned from them.
All too often we see organisations issue apologies when they have done very little wrong.
It has almost become a default position at the first sign of controversy or someone taking offence.
Of, course, it is absolutely the right thing to do when things have gone seriously wrong and you’re facing a crisis media management incident, but apologising all the time only adds to the reputation damage an organisation suffers.
Constant apologies also suggest that a company does not really care – if they really cared they would put the problem right and would therefore not need to apologise so often.
I’ve mentioned the Sorry for the Inconvenience website in this media training blog before and I love it because it always amazes me just how often rail operators apologise – and I travel by train every day.
The figure currently stands at more than 230,000 this year alone and we are only in June. And some of the apologies are issued for very minor things where in many cases an explanation would suffice.
Companies should look to be more selective about when they genuinely say sorry.
Sometimes a better approach is to take control of the narrative and laugh about the issue – as Paddy Power did with those who couldn’t bear its campaign.
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