When Brands say Sorry…

28 Feb,2018


By Sanjeev Kotnala


I am not a KFC fan. I only buy their Crispy Chicken Pakoda when kids in the family force me. However, I love DHL and its service. So, when I see KFC ‘chicken shortage’ fiasco in the UK entirely blamed on DHL, do I start doubting the efficiency and trust imposed in DHL. Should DHL too be saying Sorry?

A decade or two back, such an act of deficiency in service like the KFC-UK-NO-CHICKEN was just a technical problem. The brands handled them differently. Mostly there was no need to apologise and say SORRY.

Space and expectations have changed. The consumer has an active social media control with ease of voicing (cribbing) a raised voice. The consumer now is less forgiving and more demanding. And the brands more apologetic.


The KFC fans in the UK were hungry and irritated with 700 of the 870 stores of Chicken Speciality joint closed due to disruption in fresh-chicken supplies. KFC claims that 90% of the restaurants were up by Friday (Feb 23, 2018) and that was a quick recovery.

I believe that KFC will not lose much of its loyal customer base. The customers will most likely understand. The consumers seem to appreciate KFC humorously straight and honest speak in their apology that went like  “ 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.”. They even played on the ‘Chicken crossing the road joke.’

Internally KFC will have questions about the process, control and risk mitigation while shifting business from Bidvest to DHL. However, DHL may be forced to take a more significant dent in its corporate logistic and supplies market.

No one wants to take a chance in such a crucial role?

The DHL line of defence is meek and timid: “While we are not the only party responsible for the supply chain to KFC, we do apologise for the inconvenience and disappointment caused to KFC and their customers by this incident.” It is something people want to hear.  DHL could have joined the apology and controlled the spread.


It reminds me of Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke speaking about the Maggi India issue. “This is a case where you can be so right and yet so wrong,…… We were right on factual arguments and yet so wrong on arguing. It’s not a matter of being right. It’s a matter of ENGAGING the right way and finding a solution… We live in an ambiguous world. We have to be able to cope with that.”

Nowadays customer reaction and build-up on social media can suddenly transform a small fire into a full-blown crisis. It is time for brands to have contextual SOP, Chain-of-Command and framework ready.

Even the corporate NGO OXFAM is on apology spree at Haiti for the scandal. In its recent message, it said:  “Oxfam is grateful to the Haitian government for allowing us the chance now to offer our humblest apologies and to begin explaining ourselves and start the long road ahead of re-establishing trust and partnership, given our 40-year history with Haiti and its citizens.

Cadbury did packaging changes and a big PR campaign to get out of the worms mess. Uber did not rightly handle the situation in the rape case. It failed again while apologising to the deficiency in service when the drivers went off-road. Honda recalled more than 23,000 cars for faulty airbags. Maggi, though not the best case, does show that the customer is willing to give you one chance of failure if you are eager, agile and transparent.


Brands have apologised for their campaigns that were developed with best interest and intent. Unfortunately, some of them ended with an adverse reaction from the audience. Most consumers have been happy with the withdrawal or banning of the ad. Take the case of Ford Can’t Escape Awful Berlusconi Bondage Ad, MC-BC Zomato, Amazon flag doormats, the Condom ad featuring Sunny Leone during Navratri or the UK Beer Company apologising for Gandhi Bot on cans. Sometimes the brands had to apologise publically.

Surprisingly most are not too open to evaluate and accept the five-golden steps of crisis management propagated by Kimberly (1) acknowledge that there is an issue that needs to be examined carefully. (2) buy time to get the facts. (3) do not deny involvement/responsibility. (4) do not attempt to estimate the magnitude of the problem. (5) commit to a speedy but thorough investigation.”

No, I do not expect Nirav Modi or Vijay Mallya to apologies. In such cases, neither the bank nor the borrowers are in the mood to fire an apology. Politicians themselves are busy playing the blame game.

I have a feeling that customers will be more sensitive and touchy in small subgroups, brands will play safe and cautious. Brands will improve their system processes and quality controls. More technology will work on sophisticated algorithms to deliver perfection. I see a time, when brands, products and service providers will be saying sorry more often in public platforms. Maybe, it is still a bit early for APOLOGY ADVERTISING service start-up in India.




























Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.