Confession as Ad Execution Strategy

Confession is good for the soul; it lifts a burden from us when we acknowledge shortcomings or mistakes. Acknowledging a problem is the first step toward fixing it. This process of introspection and improvement applies to businesses, too. However, a major difference between businesses and individuals when it comes to acknowledging mistakes is we do not usually feel compelled to share our admissions of guilt with the whole world. Increasingly, businesses are making the choice to go beyond admitting mistakes and featuring them in advertising campaigns.

Domino’s Pizza brought attention to the tactic of confession as an advertising execution strategy in 2010. The company acknowledged that many pizza eaters did not like the taste of Domino’s, and it responded by taking steps to reformulate the product. To drive home the point that it recognized customers had come to dislike the product, commercials featured the “new and improved” pizza being delivered to homes of people who had complained about Domino’s product quality. The camp was an innovative way to say “ know we messed up.” Moreover, Domino’s demonstrated responsiveness to consumers as the complaints served as a catalyst for change.

Fast forward a year and a half and we find another restaurant brand employing the same strategy as it seeks to return to glory. Shoney's had more than 1,600 locations in its heyday, but it is a shadow of its former self with only 230 locations today. The architect of the plan to turnaround Shoney’s is CEO David Davoudpour, who bought the company in 2009. Shoney’s has launched a "Starting Fresh" ad campaign that includes a commercial in which Davoudpour is driving a bulldozer directly toward one of his restaurants. Another commercial shows a “kidnapping” of the executive chef hired by Shoney’s to improve the menu. The admission is not as strong as that made by Domino’s, but the takeaway from the Shoney’s ad campaign is “it is broken, but we plan to fix it.”

So, is confession not only good for the soul but effective for persuading customers about the quality reputation of your brand, too? Admitting failure is admirable, as is going to the lengths of communicating it in an expensive ad campaign. But saying “we were wrong” must be followed with tangible evidence of what has been done to right the wrong. If the aim of “confession advertising” is to change people’s beliefs about a brand, then there must be evidence of verifiable change. A slogan of “we’re trying harder” will not do! - "New Shoney's Ad Campaign Concedes Failures"

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