Earls: An Apology Well Done

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Here’s something you probably didn’t know two weeks ago:  that Earls has been trying hard to serve only Certified Humane beef in its restaurants.

But now, in all likelihood, you do.  And that’s all the evidence we need to declare Earls’ brand “blunder” to be, in fact, a major victory.

That’s the upshot of what I told Paul Haavardsrud of CBC Radio One in an interview yesterday, available here on Dropbox (my bit starts at 1:55). 

As you know, two weeks ago Earls announced they would no longer serve Canadian beef – because Canada (said Earls) couldn’t produce enough that met the standard of Certified Humane.  Instead, Earls would source its beef from the US, which could provide enough of the good stuff.

Alberta farmers became, to put it mildly, rather upset.  They rallied on social media and called for a boycott.  And then yesterday, Earls president Mo Jessa released a video in which he gave an obviously authentic, heartfelt and unequivocal apology for turning his back on Canadian beef.  He said Earls would do everything in its power to get Canadian product back in its restaurants as soon as possible.

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It was a brand masterstroke.  For Earls is now clearly positioned as the Canadian leader when it comes to ethically sourced beef, an issue of rapidly increasing importance to consumers.  Provided they work in good faith with the Canuck cattle farmers to up the supply of Certified Humane, Earls can own the position over the very long term.

So how did they manage to make filet out of chuck?  And how did they manage not to blow this golden opportunity, as so many organizations would have?

It all comes down to these key components of an apology well done:

1.They apologized quickly. 

The farmers had organized on social media, yes, but at least they hadn’t had the time to blockade Earls’ restaurants with their tractors.  Taking too long to admit an error – or even denying that an error has been made (hello Chris Colabello) is one of the biggest mistakes a brand can make.

2.It wasn’t that big of a deal anyway. 

Well…this one might be pure luck.  Or great brand management.  Either way, Earls’ error just wasn’t that egregious in the first place.  In fact, it could easily be argued that Earls was trying to do something noble by pursuing the Certified Humane standard.

 3.They meant it.

President Jessa didn’t do one of these weasel-worded “if you were offended” routines.  From his words, and from his body language, it was easily apparent that he really did feel bad about it.

It’s a flip flop with fascinating effect.  Because ethically sourced beef was not, two weeks ago, a component of the Earls’ brand proposition.  Now it is – and the Earls brand stands for much more in May than it did in April.

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