The chocolate-maker Tony’s Chocolonely was forced to publicly apologise on the weekend after buyers of its advent calendar complained about a missing chocolate.
The ethical Dutch confectionary company purposefully did not include a sweet treat behind the 8th door of its calendar in an attempt to draw attention to inequality in the chocolate industry.
On the company’s social media page, it announced alongside the empty door that the act was intended to be “a great conversation starter for change.” It went on to describe the industry as “unequally divided and choc-full of inequality.”
But customers responded in floods on the company’s social media pages, sharing how their children had tearfully reacted, with one saying, “causing upset to small children … just to prove a point doesn’t sit well with me.”
Another social media user described how her child, who has ADHD and is expected to be diagnosed with autism, felt especially upset at the missing chocolate.
Tony’s responded by describing the move as intended to “increase awareness” to the inequality in the chocolate industry.
“We would like to welcome all feedback on how to make our products more accommodating for neurodivergent people going forward as it was not our intention to cause this issue," they said in a statement.
Learn from your mistakes
The case is a good example of how is best to respond in a crisis situation – quickly and authentically. When you are being deluged by criticism, from what feels like all sides, the best policy is to address the situation and to put your hands up and apologise.
Just as Tony’s Chocolonely did, respond with a statement that offers an apology as well as seeking to explain your initial intentions.
Additionally, ensuring you show how you are implementing corrective action and keeping these standards in place for the future. This is critical to remaining a reputable organisation in the public’s eyes – transparency is the best policy.
In the age of social media, it is a mistake to assume you won’t be criticised. So, it is a necessity to put a plan in place to ensure you respond in an authentic and effective way, that is free from the expected ‘PR lines’ and that shows you have an honest understanding of any harm caused.
The case shows that certain sensitivities which may not have been vocalised in the past are now issues you have to consider in advance, especially in regards to ‘making points’ about a cause you care about – this could backfire. If you can, think of every single possibility for criticism and mitigate against it.
- Respond, and respond quickly. Many assume that some backlashes can be swept under the carpet, but in truth they cannot. Respond to crises and do so as quickly as you can.
- Transparency is key. The public appreciate when companies put their hands up and apologise, and when they do so authentically.
- Show how you are making corrective action. It is not enough to apologise – you should show that you have learnt from your mistake and will be more considerate of particular issues in future.