Back in the good ol’ days (so like, the ‘80s or ‘90s), information on businesses, whether large or small, was definitely more limited than it is now. Scandals could be more easily swept under the rug, the money CEOs and upper management made wasn’t so easily accessible, and product or service information that could be potentially harmful (insert comment on Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte here) just wasn’t as much of a concern. And businesses probably enjoyed certain perks because of the limit of information available to the public.
Not to beat a dead horse because I feel like I’ve read this phrase over and over and over again (and then some more), but the Internet – and social media – really have changed the way we receive information. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a computer (my dad bought one for our house when I was second grade, in 1998), but every piece of information that’s been allowed to surface to the public is just one click away and I can’t imagine a time where you had to wait for the newspaper to get news. And with so many new businesses that can now advertise and market themselves online for little to no charge, companies – even large corporations – who might have sold a sketchy product or service simply won’t survive. But certain businesses with a questionable past have perfected a PR move that puts them way ahead of the game.
I’m thinking specifically of Domino’s. With competition from other huge corporations, Domino’s was sinking drastically; their food quality was bad, the marketing was bad, it was just bad all around. Eventually the company changed its recipe (what a concept) but what they mastered was using their bad reputation to their advantage. Their ads were funny – who can’t appreciate depreciative humor? – and they were real. They didn’t just change their recipe and pretend years of bad food didn’t happen. They said, yeah, our food was pretty bad – sorry. They even made fun of some of the past recipes. But it’s actually working – Morgan Stanley called it a “leader in US delivery pizza” and sales have skyrocketed both in the U.S. and abroad.
Arby’s recently used the same technique in response to Jon Stewart’s incessant critique of the roast beef giant. Arby’s bought a spot on Stewart’s show that thanked him for his “friendship” (aka the frequent unflattering comments) and then dedicated a special sandwich (adorably called The Daily Deli) to the iconic host. So instead of attacking the beloved icon (smart move), the company played the game too, and it paid off big time – tweets about Arby’s soared 564% after the move.
The point is that people are a lot more cynical than they were before the Internet and not so in the dark about information and opinions. Companies are wise to acknowledge their mistakes and defeats – people appreciate honesty, especially now that we are often bombarded with messages promising something and then delivering something completely different. If you can find humor in it, that makes it all the better. We as a society are forgiving (for these sorts of things) and we love giving second chances and seeing comebacks. We’re all the more ready to give you another shot if you’re self-deprecating –that’s true both on an individual level and societal level.
Companies admitting mistakes and using excuses is something we see often, but those that make fun of themselves and go an untraditional way in marketing is something we don’t often see. And it’s really paying off for those companies.