Selling the ‘suck’

Revolution RadioIn the late 90’s, there was a local alternative rock station here in the Twin Cities called REV 105. It was a great station and loved by many, but their signal was terrible. They knew it, and their listeners knew it.  Rather than hide behind their microphones, they made their weak signal strength the focus of their advertising. Every time the station made transmitter improvements and boosted kilowatts, billboards and print ads would appear around town with slogans that said, “Now our signal sucks a little less.” I had never seen copy like that before, and the honest advertising made me root for them even more. After all, it felt like they were doing it for us. (*Still trying to find a copy of the ad. Let me know if you can find it.)

It seems counterintuitive, but admitting you suck might actually build customers. Okay, so you’re not likely to find this chapter in your old business textbook, but beneath the absurdity of this suggestion lies something of value to ponder. There is something endearing about showing your company’s vulnerable side and admitting your company could be doing a better job.

Domino’s recently sanded off the corporate varnish and showed us their weakness, airing ads with actual focus groups saying their crust was like cardboard and their sauce tasted like ketchup. That kind of vulnerability has paid off despite many marketing experts claiming the strategy was too risky and on par with brand suicide. Domino’s eschewed the critics and moved forward with a new recipe and campaign asking customers to give them another chance. Since debuting the new recipe, sales at domestic stores open more than a year have risen more than 14 percent.

I am not advocating an all-out public confession of everything your company does poorly, but let’s face it – we all know an area of our business that sucks. If your brand is ignoring a weakness that customers are already talking about, the climate might be right for you to deal with it in a very public way. It tells your customers you hear them and can show that you care.

So, before you dive in, make sure you understand what the customer sees as your Achilles heel. The last thing you want to do is expose a weakness no one is aware of. Also know that addressing a weakness in your business is way different than fixing your image after bad press relating to controversy or scandal (i.e. BPDomino’s employees, KFC, Toyota, etc.). Those fall into the category of crisis management. Either way, you will need to hire a good PR firm, and be mindful of your delivery. To avoid manufactured authenticity, make sure the copy and tone of your delivery jive with your brand’s identity. Be who you are while also speaking the language of your customer.

Be prepared to wait. Admitting your faults is just a step in the process and will not result in a love fest for your brand overnight. If a customer has had a bad experience, regaining that trust will take a lot of time.

The bottom line is this: Consumers love to be right. Eating crow and admitting your faults publicly may feel scary, but support will emerge. Americans may love to hate, but they love a good comeback even more.

About Jason Bakker

Jason Bakker is a native Minnesotan and has been working in the area of youth marketing for nearly a decade. He currently works with Minneapolis based Campus Media Group as the Director of Marketing and is responsible for following trends in the ever-changing landscape of youth culture and media usage, and for consulting advertising agency and national brand professionals on how to develop integrated marketing programs that reach college youth.