How to Apologize to Your Customers, by the Douche Marketer Who Gave Career Advice

Last Updated Sep 1, 2010 7:14 PM EDT

C.B. Fleet has earned some goodwill points with the public after apologizing for running an ad for its Summer's Eve douche product that literally said the first thing you should do in the morning before you ask your boss for a raise is to use its "feminine rinse" product. While the ad was a comical disaster, brand managers should focus on the way Fleet apologized: The company used plain English, not PR-talk, management-speak or legalese; and it admitted the ad was a screwup rather than being evasive about it.
Making rationalizations or excuses is a common misstep when things go wrong in business. How often have you heard a company blame its own consumers with the phrase, "we're sorry if anyone was offended," which implies that it's your fault for being annoyed, and not the company's for being offensive.

So read and learn from Summer's Eve Brand manager Angela Bryant, who is not having a good week at work. The ad she approved (click to enlarge) was titled "Confidence at Work: How to Ask for a Raise":
It should start with your usual routine and all the things you do to feel your best, including showering with Summer's Eve Feminine Wash or throwing a packet of Summer's Eve Feminine Cleansing Cloths into your bag for a quick freshness pick-me-up during the day.
It didn't take long for bloggers to howl over the idea that a woman's salary should be linked to the smell of her genitals. Here's Bryant's statement, retracting the ad:
Hello this is Angela Bryant, Summer's Eve Brand Manager. I want to thank you for speaking your mind on what appeared in Woman's Day. Many of you have asked 'what were they thinking?' In all honesty, we never made the connections when the editorial was reviewed and we apologize. We are working hard to adjust our current ad campaigns, though unfortunately, one or two may appear in upcoming magazines that were already in production when these concerns became evident.
(Unfortunately, Bryant's statement did then devolve into a bunch of PowerPoint mumbo-jumbo about how Fleet "engaged a progressive communications team" to fix things, but that's not the point.) Bryant confessed that her folks just screwed up, the same way we all do. It was refreshing to see it stated so forthrightly. Now only a real curmudgeon can be angry at Fleet. Compare her apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward's dissembling over the size of the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill.
How did this happen? Bryant said, "Summer's Eve wants to not only connect with our customers, but to be an active leader on the issues that matter to women." That, I suspect is the root cause here: Having established a successful business in the dubious cleansing product niche, Summer's Eve then convinced itself that it had wisdom to offer outside its area of expertise. In this case, Summer's Eve sees itself as an advisor on all things to do with women's "confidence."

It's a classic management ego-trap. In the same vein, Saatchi & Saatchi recently set about trying to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict; Crispin Porter + Bogusky has become a new product developer for Kraft (in addition to its efforts to solve the oil spill and global warming); and Euro RSCG PR took a position on terrorism.

So here's the reminder: Being successful at one thing doesn't mean you'll be successful at everything. Stick to your knitting. Or your douches.

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