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There’s often plenty that can be learnt when a company issues an apology.
That's one of the main reasons why we sometimes take a look at them in this blog.
One of the latest organisations to find itself in a situation where it feels compelled to say ‘sorry’ is fashion brand Boden.
It found itself in the social media firing line after part of its catalogue for its children’s clothing range sparked outrage and claims of 'gender stereotyping'.
It suggested that boys want sturdy clothes for adventure, while girls are interested in being pretty.
The brochure contained an image of a young girl with the words “Girls, new clothes are in sight. Fill your pockets (and wardrobe) with flowers and race this way.
A separate quote in the booklet read: “Boys, start every adventure with a bike (or a pair of very fast legs), fellow mischief-makers, clothes that can keep up.
The issue was highlighted on Twitter by Sam Williams on Twitter and gained momentum with other users sharing their concerns and misgivings about the campaign.
Hi @Bodenclothing I’m concerned about your most recent Mini Boden catalogue. There seems to be a big gender difference in your marketing for children’s clothes. Any comments? pic.twitter.com/zXRrgY3Ty8— Jemima Childs (@JemimaJourno) February 4, 2019
This is grim @Bodenclothing - and affects kids of all genders. Use your influence to help children not hinder them— Fabia Bates (@FabiaBates) February 3, 2019
What if boys want pockets full of flowers instead of rushing around making mischief as they're forced to do 24/7? Boys will be boys. This is terrible.— Iolanthe2345 (@Iolanthe2345) February 2, 2019
And as is so often the case, mainstream media picked up on the issue and it generated some pretty unfavourable headlines.
Boden sparks uproar over sexist gender stereotyping on children’s clothing Daily Mail
Children’s clothing brand Boden apologises for gender stereotyping Metro
Boden apologises after children’s catalogue criticised for gender stereotyping The Independent
Fashion retailer Boden sparks fury with new sexism row The Telegraph
Boden responded to the storm by issuing a response through its Twitter account. It said: “We're so sorry for blotting our copybook in such style. Whilst it wasn’t our intention to ever stereotype the roles of boys and girls, we probably over-egged things a little here.
“At Boden, we are totally committed to gender equality, and firmly believe in equal roles and opportunities for boys and girls – in fact, we have a male founder and a female CEO.
“We really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, and will ensure that such a mishap doesn't happen again. Please accept our sincere apologies. And we will ask Don Draper to stop writing our copy.”
1/3 We're so sorry for blotting our copybook in such style. Whilst it wasn’t our intention to ever stereotype the roles of boys and girls, we probably over-egged things a little here.— Boden (@Bodenclothing) February 3, 2019
2/3 At Boden, we are totally committed to gender equality, and firmly believe in equal roles and opportunities for boys and girls – in fact, we have a male founder and a female CEO.— Boden (@Bodenclothing) February 3, 2019
3/3 We really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, and will ensure that such a mishap doesn't happen again. Please accept our sincere apologies. And we will ask Don Draper to stop writing our copy.— Boden (@Bodenclothing) February 3, 2019
So what can other organisation’s learn from this apology?
Hard to find
One of the interesting things about the apology is that it is not particularly easy to find.
If you look on the @BodenClothing Twitter account you will just find a range of promotional messages.
It is only when you go into the ‘Tweets & replies’ section that you will find the apology, issued in two – and in some cases three - parts to customers who have raised concerns about the campaign.
Surely a better approach would have been to have a pinned tweet on its main Twitter page, at least for a few days until the focus moves on to something else.
If you are going to apologise, surely you want it to be visible.
The Boden response seems to have been as a direct reply to those who had posted concerns about the campaign. Certainly, the ‘we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention’ line suggests that is the case.
Replying, or at least attempting to respond, to everyone who has voiced concerns during a crisis media management incident or social media storm is always an admirable aim.
But when the same response is used repeatedly with very little variation, it tends to feel robotic.
Brands need to carefully consider whether a copy and paste response really suggests to their customers that they care or, as in this case, are pleased that an issue has been brought to their attention.
This is the standard response you’ve given for many customers who have also spotted the inequality. Not sure how this got past your editor. Disappointed as I used to love Mini Boden.— Jemima Childs (@JemimaJourno) February 4, 2019
When you are in a social media storm or a crisis media management incident, deploying humour in your responses is always a risky approach.
That doesn’t mean it needs to be completely avoided, but brands need to tread carefully and ensure they really understand their audience.
KFC did this well with its chicken shortage crisis last year, seasoning its responses with some well-judged humour.
And Boden weaved some humour into its response telling customers it will ‘ask Don Draper to stop writing our copy’ – a reference to a character in the Mad Men television series set in the 1950s.
Did it work? Well, it made me smile and I felt it showed a human side to the brand. But there is also an argument that it is perhaps being a bit flippant on what is a serious issue.
Reassurance is an important component of effective apologies
Customers want to feel reassured that what has happened is a one-off. In this case, they want to know that Boden takes this issue seriously.
So the part of the response which talks about believing in equal roles for boys and girls and then backing that up showing that it had a male founder and a female CEO is strong.
However, I think it could have gone further and actually named these bosses, or, even better, put the response in one of their names. This would not only help to make the apology more human, but would also show visible leadership.
Hostage to fortune
Boden’s response includes the line we ‘will ensure that such a mishap doesn’t happen again’.
It is always tempting for organisations to say something emphatic along these lines when dealing with a crisis media management response.
But although we understand the temptation, it is not something we would recommend. It can be hard for brands to live up to this promise and it can leave them a hostage to fortune.
Just last month Boden found itself in a similar situation where parents slammed some of its clothes for reinforcing gender stereotypes. So how can it be so confident that it will not find itself here again?
A better approach would have been to tweak, or soften the language slightly, perhaps saying something like “we will be doing everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening again in future.”
In short it has been a mixed response. Only time will tell if Boden can really fulfill its promise that this won’t happen again or whether we will have another apology to analyse in future.
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