Super Bowl Is No Place For Verizon’s Apology

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The Super Bowl is perhaps the world’s largest remaining stage for making a bold statement that gets heard loud and clear. Verizon this year used the platform to try to make a big apology for a corporate gaffe — and data shows that while consumers listened, they didn’t necessarily like what they heard.

Brands from Bud Light to Walmart used Super Bowl ads to spark buzz, launch new campaigns or introduce new spokespeople. Verizon created its 2019 big game ad to try to reverse damage to their brand from throttling firefighters’ data plans last year. The spot focuses on “first responders” and features NFL players and a coach whose lives were saved.

But is a Super Bowl ad the best way for a major brand to make an apology? Is Verizon’s public relations snafu one that it needs to fix in the first place?

On-demand user insights platform Alpha tested whether the ads succeed or backfire like so much corporate PR spin. 350 adults in the United States answered fixed-response and open-ended questions about the campaign.

Before making any large marketing or product investment, it’s important to make sure that you’re solving a real problem. The study tested consumers’ reactions to the news about Verizon throttling firefighters’ data plans to see how it affects the company’s image.

Sixty-four percent of consumers reported a negative reaction to the news and 41% said that they were not at all likely to consider Verizon as a mobile phone service provider.

Unfortunately, Verizon is not the first corporation to make a mistake that hurts its brand. In the past year alone, for example, an American Airlines flight attendant who was caught on video dragging a customer off a plane, and Facebook’s data privacy issues have dominated news cycles.

There are many cases of corporations apologizing for unethical practices or poor customer service. Some of the most common strategies are running a sale or free promotion or publishing a letter written by the CEO, but Verizon’s approach is different. The study tested whether running a Super Bowl ad is the best approach for making amends.

Only 3% of respondents say that running a Super Bowl is the best way to make up for a mistake.

The insights above are caused to consider whether a Super Bowl ad is the best approach, but if Verizon is going to run an ad, they’ll want to make sure it gets their message across effectively. Luckily for the telecom, 64% of mobile phone service subscribers had a favorable initial reaction to watching the ad.

Many respondents said that the message was clear and easy to understand. One user said:

“I felt like Verizon did a good job portraying what they were trying to do. They used a real life story to show how much they appreciate first responders. Knowing the story helps us understand what they are saying.”

The ad’s messages of sacrifice and duty clearly resonated with study respondents, who recorded reactions similar to this one:

“They are almost superheroes. It takes a strong person and family to take on that job knowing you might not make it back to your family.”

There was an interesting age-based divergence in enthusiasm for the ad, with 69% of viewers aged 45-54 and 72% of those aged 55-64 rating the commercial effective or highly effective – a stark contrast with other age groups.

Only 9% of respondents felt strongly that the Super Bowl ad made up for its mistake. It seems that Verizon’s Super Bowl ad is effective, however, it may not be enough to win back some consumers. While the message came through loud and clear, it appears a lot of recipients didn’t care to listen.

Jonathan Gardner

Jonathan Gardner is a veteran marketing and communications executive and is a consultant for global technology companies. Follow him on Twitter @thejongardner.
Jonathan Gardner

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