by Megan Power (@Power_Report) 

An interesting thing about the recent Schweppes soda-water ‘apology’ is that nowhere in the actual 1 minute 16-second video posted on social media does the word “sorry” appear. But it doesn’t matter. What Schweppes has successfully done — something many brands find so hard to do — is own up to its blunder publicly and fix it. Customers loved it.


#OhSchweppes – we know our mix-up resulted in some mixes you didn’t want, and we hope that you accept our apology.

Posted by Schweppes South Africa on Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Long term

But there’s far more significance — long term — in Schweppes doing what it did. On the face of it, the soft-drink brand was making amends for irking its loyal customers by rebranding its soda water to look just like its tonic water — a gaffe that led to happy-hour chaos and bitter chirping from annoyed gin and whisky drinkers across the country.

The brand responded, albeit a good while later, with a playful yet authentic, take-off of the mix-up. Instead of arrogantly dismissing customer concerns, it took full responsibility for the oversight and held the relevant internal team accountable. By name. The result is an honest (the sheepish marketing execs featured are the real deal) falling on its sword that says to its customers: “We hear you, we feel your pain, and we’ve fixed things so we don’t irritate you anymore.”

Customers were thrilled; even those who didn’t use the brand claimed to be converted. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, though; consumers are inherently a forgiving bunch, if only brands acknowledged fault more often. I see it in the area of brand protection and customer experience (CX): a reluctance and, in some cases, a complete inability, to see or accept customer obstacles and frustration when using a product or service. Thankfully, the smart organisations are prioritising user experience (a very separate function to marketing) and ensuring UX and CX insights inform each and every process.

Goes further

But the Schweppes mea culpa shouldn’t be seen as a clever piece of spin that’s earned the brand and its agency some temporary kudos. It goes further than that. The more a brand successfully navigates the little bumps on the road, the more prepared it is to cope with the big crises when they happen, and the more receptive and understanding its customer base becomes.

Slip-ups, if managed well, present opportunities to strengthen trust, credibility and goodwill with customers, and should be embraced. It’s the regular deposits into the goodwill bank that pay off when something much bigger breaks.

Another win is that when businesses do right by their customers, they set precedent which raises the bar for all future customer engagements. In Schweppes’ case, Coca-Cola (which owns the brand) will now be held to a higher standard across all its brands.

Deadly for diabetics

It’s already happening to Coke. As with the soda-tonic fiasco, Coke’s new packaging for regular Coke and its sugar-free variants are just as indistinguishable, and causing much upset. But where the soda-water confusion was just irritating, a mix-up in Coke brands for diabetics could be deadly.

Consumers, who have already taken to social media to protest and warn Coke of dire consequences if diabetics suffer, expect the brand to take stock — and action. Just like it did in the Schweppes situation. Except, this time, they’ll want a bit more urgency.

Companies shouldn’t think they’re able to pick and choose which complaints they’ll entertain, and when. And certainly not a company which has just spent time and money owning up in a very public way to a fairly innocuous issue.

Listen very carefully

Once an organisation shows integrity, it’s tough to change direction later on if it hopes to retain credibility. Which is why the Schweppes apology shouldn’t be a once-off, and Coke should listen to its customers, especially its diabetic ones, very carefully.

If it does, the benefits could be far reaching. Should Coke or its brands face a major crisis in the future, which stops business as usual, chances are its customers — won over by an ongoing culture of listening and doing the right thing — will be more forgiving. They’re more likely to trust the brand to fix things, and give it the space to do so. Some may even come out as faithful defenders of the brand.

Who wouldn’t drink to that?

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