Is it right for brands to apologise for their previous performance?

The Evening Standard has run a series of ads apologising to Londoners for its performance under its previous owner in the hope of encouraging former readers to reappraise the relaunched paper


Cameron Saunders, marketing director, Twentieth Century Fox Film Company

It takes guts to apologise, and to apologise so comprehensively and publicly is a real statement of intent.

Clearly the Evening Standard's campaign is the start of a conversation with Londoners, a bold attempt to drive reappraisal of a brand in freefall. It also feels like the end of a major internal debate at the paper: 'We got it wrong, and things are going to change around here.' It's a real gamble and risks insulting core readers who feel it has nothing to apologise for, but without radical change, the only guarantee is a continued slide into oblivion.

Should brands apologise? Absolutely, but only if they mean it and are doing something about it.

I do feel the Standard's new owners are genuinely distancing themselves from the past, and are sincere in their desire for change. But didn't they begin to really 'lose touch' when they continued to charge for their paper in the face of the evening freesheets? It's right to apologise unreservedly for mistakes, but in the Standard's case, is it apologising for the right mistake, or
is it just apologetic marketing?


Stephen Woodford, chief executive, DDB London

The Evening Standard is part of the rich tapestry of London life. However, it is no longer UK-owned - Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev now holds the reins and clearly, perhaps bravely, he wants to make a break with the past.

Saying 'sorry' has a cultural signifi-cance for us Brits. The campaign has tapped into the fact we respect insti-tutions that apologise when they are wrong, but can we respect an insti-tution that apologises unnecessarily?  

Apologising makes a latent issue prominent and, for me, creates no advantage for the paper. I read the Evening Standard and do not share the new regime's low opinion of the newspaper's previous editorial. To me, it is an authority for breaking London and national news, and as a loyal reader I feel insulted.

Could this be Lebedev's 'Gerald Ratner moment', or the courageous new dawn for a great London institution? My vote is for the former.


Rufus Radcliffe, head of network marketing, Channel 4

Apologising is risky, particularly when the mistake isn't obvious. The Evening Standard didn't lose people's luggage or use salmonella-riddled eggs to make chocolate. Its editorial stance wasn't a mistake: it was deliberate, and repeated every day. The negative editorial, the relentless bad news, the obsession with house prices - it might have been wrong, but it was intentional.

Is it apologising because it philo-sophically regrets its stance or because it didn't work? Brands should apologise only if they mean it, and won't repeat the mistake. If it is a neat marketing angle - an excuse to get attention - it won't work. London is full of sceptics. The immediate response will be: 'Is it a publicity stunt?'

Apologising puts brands under extraordinary pressure. The Standard will be scrutinised like never before. If the paper does not deliver, the response will be 'You haven't changed at all.'
Apologising reminds Londoners why they won't pay 50p, but risks sometimes pay off, and clearly something had to be done to create genuine reappraisal. Let's see if it rises to the challenge.


Marc Sands, director of marketing, Guardian News & Media

Of course there are circumstances where brands should apologise for their previous performances. Where brands have lied, misled or got some-thing factually wrong, they should apologise. They do not necessarily have to apologise for an opinion or a point of view unless facts emerge later that prove their view was factually wrong.

We read everywhere that people have a genuine relationship with brands. A genuine relationship also includes the occasional appropriate apology.

Why brand owners, politicians and others find it so hard to apologise is incomprehensible to me. Some humanity and a little humility never did anyone any harm.

It is rarely possible to move on unless a line in the sand can be drawn. At that point, the relationship between brand and customer can resume. Until then,

it will always be somewhat tempered. You had better make sure you mean it, though. If the apology is honest, the relationship will only be enhanced.


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