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Let’s be Frank

Lifting the lid on all things marketing, language, copy & transcreation.

An empty chicken bucket with the letters F C K on it

The art of the brand apology

Sorry seems to be the hardest word, especially for brands. Too fawning, too fake, too little, too late… One way or another more often than not they seem to get it wrong.

Which is why we’ve put together this handy dandy (brand-y) guide to navigating the mea culpa minefield and penning a perfect brand apology…


1. React

If you smell a corporate screw up, don’t look the other way. Gather your smartest people (ideally around a campfire) to work out what went wrong, and how to deal with it.


2. But don’t over-react

There’s no nice way to say this, but… no one cares about your brand. Not like you do, anyway.

Which is why sometimes, what looks to you like an existential crisis can look to everyone else like not a very big deal, unless you make it one.

So before you rush to unfurl that big ‘I’M SORRY’ banner out the window of your WeWork, pause. Step back, and use some judgement about whether an apology is warranted, and how big it needs to be.

Leaked the credit card details of 10,000 customers?

Make it big. Make it abject.

Delivered one customer’s bottle of hot sauce a day late?

Unless that customer writes to tell you that that bottle of hot sauce was their dying grandmother’s last wish and with her final breath she whispered ‘where’s my hot sauce?’, a tidy private email will probably do the trick.


A brand apology print ad from KFC. An empty fried chicken bucket with the letters F C K on it. The text underneath reads:We're sorry A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It's not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed. And endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation. It's been a hell of a week, but we're making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.

A pitch-perfect brand apology from KFC


3. Say sorry

Literally. Say the word. Just say it. Let’s practise together: ‘we’re sorry’.


4. Say why

Play back what happened. Don’t skirt around it. Don’t minimise it. Just say what you did wrong in simple language.


A brand apology print ad that says:We apologise You have probably read or heard that we have had a serious problem with three frozen beef burger products that we sell in stores in the UK and Ireland. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has told us that a number of products they have recently tested from one of our suppliers contained horsemeat. While the FSAI has said that the products pose no risk to public health, we appreciate that, like us, our customers will find this absolutely unacceptable. The products in our stores were Tesco Everyday Value 8x Frozen Beef Burgers (3979), Tesco 4 x Frozen Beef Quarter Pounders (454g) and a branded product, Flamehouse Frozen Chargrilled Quarter Pounders. We have immediately withdrawn from sale all products from the supplier in question, from all our stores and online.

Phew! We were worried for a second there they weren’t going to mention the part where IT WAS HORSEMEAT


5. Focus on them, not you

Don’t go babbling about how you pride yourself on excellent service and it pains you to your very core to think that on this occasion you blabbedy blah blah blah blah blah.

Instead, acknowledge the impact your cock-up had on your reader. For example:

We know that by cancelling the show last-minute, we’ve messed up your plans.


6. Fix it

… if you can. And tell them how. If you can’t, explain what you’re doing to make sure it won’t happen again.


7. Keep it short

You’ve already pissed someone off. Don’t make it worse by wasting their time. Just say what you need to say quickly and clearly.


A 3-part brand apology Instagram post that says:TO OUR BELOVED BUMBLE COMMUNITY: We made a mistake. Our ads referencing celibacy were an attempt to lean into a community frustrated by modern dating, and instead of bringing joy and humor, we unintentionally did the opposite. Some of the perspectives we heard were: from those who shared that celibacy is the only answer when reproductive rights are continuously restricted; from others for whom celibacy is a choice, one that we respect; and from the asexual community, for whom celibacy can have a particular meaning and importance, which should not be diminished. We are also aware that for many, celibacy may be brought on by harm or trauma. For years, Bumble has passionately stood up for women and marginalized communities, and their right to fully exercise personal choice. We didn't live up to these values with this campaign and we apologize for the harm it caused. So, here's what we're doing: We're removing these ads from our global marketing campaign. Bumble will be making a donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, among other organizations, as a part of our ongoing efforts to support the work being done around the world to support women, marginalized communities, and those impacted by abuse. We will also be offering these partners this billboard space to display an ad of their choice for the duration of our reserved billboard time. Please keep speaking up and telling us how we can be better. We care about you and will always be here for you. With love and sincere appreciation, Bumble

What. A lot. Of words.


8. For the love of god, don’t use the passive voice

‘Mistakes were made’.

All by themselves?


‘We made a mistake’. ‘We deleted your booking’. ‘Our CEO insulted an important religious leader’. You get the idea.


9. Beware the non-pology

You know the kind: ‘We’re sorry you feel that way.’ ‘We’re sorry if that upset you.’ Sneaky phrases like these look like apologies, but they don’t feel like apologies. And that’s because they shift blame away from the speaker and onto the listener. Like it’s all their fault for being such a quivering little snowflake about it.


We hope that you never need this brand apology list. But let’s be honest, you probably will, because companies are just collections of people. Sleepy, hungry, cranky people who will sometimes get things wrong. And when they do, FIRE THEM. We’re kidding. When they do, the best tactic is to handle it with speed and sincerity, but no more fuss or fanfare than it needs.