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Why ZUS Coffee's double apology for its adidas event failed to hit the PR mark

Why ZUS Coffee's double apology for its adidas event failed to hit the PR mark

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Malaysian coffee brand ZUS Coffee found itself in hot water last week after the brand participated in an adidas sports and fashion event where it served coffee to guests.

Adidas is currently a brand that consumers in Malaysia are boycotting as the war in Gaza rages on and consumers were unhappy with the brand's involvement with them.

Don't miss: ZUS Coffee apologises twice as brand sentiments drop following adidas event

Following the event, ZUS Coffee's conversation sentiments plummeted to 4.7% positive and 40.5% negative with its word cloud including words such as “bye”, “boycott” and “apologises”.

In an attempt to mitigate the situation, ZUS Coffee has since apologised for the incident and clarified that the giveaway was a one-off activity and not a collaboration.

“Nevertheless, we hear you, and we should have known better,” said the brand in a statement.

“As a home-grown Malaysian brand, we hold ourselves to the highest levels of integrity. ZUS Coffee will never knowingly associate ourselves with war and unequivocally condemn any act of violence against humanity,” explained the brand.

ZUS Coffee also said that moving forward, it will exercise greater vigilance and care in its conduct and that it will be taking necessary actions to fortify their policies and procedures to prevent a repeat of the situation.

However, customers were still unhappy with ZUS Coffee's statement which was not clear on the brand's stance on the current situation in Israel and Gaza.

It later put up a second statement acknowledging that its previous apology was not sufficiently clear in addressing its stance against the act of genocide in Palestine.

"ZUS Coffee firmly stands in solidarity against genocide, advocating for a Free Palestine," the brand wrote.

It added that it will be more mindful of its decisions going forward and ensure that its actions always reflect its values as a home-grown Malaysian brand. 

Where did it go wrong?

However, with brand sentiments continuing to remain low despite two apologies, where did ZUS Coffee go so wrong in its PR response?

For a start, it's first statement had several aspects that might come across as insincere or inadequate to consumers, according to Stefanie Braukmann, general manager at SPRG. 

"It takes a somewhat defensive tone in the beginning, explaining that the event was a one-off activity and ‘not a collaboration’, which makes it look like the brand is trying to minimise or justify their actions rather than taking full responsibility," said Braukmann.

According to Braukmann, the apology condemned violence "in a generic manner" as it did not address the specific context of the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

"The entire statement, while ticking the boxes of a typical crisis statement, such as apologising, condemning violence and promising to improve, is using formal language and lacks emotional connection," added Braukmann.

Braukmann explained that phrases such as 'we should have known better' and 'we are sorry and humbly apologise' might come across as perfunctory rather than heartfelt.

In addition, the use of corporate jargon referring to the 'highest levels of integrity' and 'best practices' does not show that the brand is truly engaging with the concerns of its consumers. 

Ashvin Anamalai, chief executive officer of DNA Creative Communications, added to Braukmann's point saying that the apology statements from brands need to acknowledge that the public's perception matters. 

"It's crucial to remember that when addressing the public, especially during a sensitive situation, your message needs to be crystal clear," said Anamalai. "In Malaysia, we have a highly informed audience, all of whom are completely averse to cookie-cutter, templated messages."

Anamalai explained that ZUS Coffee definitely underestimated how strongly their audience felt about the situation, adding that the initial apology created "a ton" of confusion and frustration for its consumers. 

"The key point is that they came out and said they stand in solidarity for a free Palestine. This shows they're on the same side of the issue as their audience, which goes a long way in rebuilding trust," explained Anamalai. 

Anamalai added: 

The big lesson here is that understanding your audience is crucial. When a crisis hits, clear messaging that resonates with your audience's concerns are essential.

Can ZUS Coffee bounce back?

In Malaysia, brands, celebrities and influencers have now become targets of boycott movements. Most recently, the global #BlockOut24 movement, a campaign where social media users block influencers or celebrities who have remained silent amidst the ongoing war between Gaza and Israel, arrived in Malaysia.

The Malaysian block list includes stars such as actresses Michelle Yeoh, Neelofa and Ruhainies, as well as actress and film producer Sheila Rusly, and actress and singer Janna Nick.

Global brands such as McDonald's and KFC have also been on the chopping block, with the latter shutting over 100 restaurants across the country amidst pro-Palestine boycott

According to Anamalai, rebuilding brand image is important for ZUS Coffee right now. This may include reaffirming its customers and being extra careful of future brand partnerships and collaborations. 

"They are a Malaysian brand and should reaffirm their customers of the social responsibilities they bear, which aligns with Malaysian values," said Anamalai. 

"Looking ahead, the brand needs to be extra careful about who they partner with. A strong selection process that ensures their future partners share their values will prevent similar situations."

Beyond any crisis, staying on top of what people are saying online is also crucial, added Anamalai, saying: 

Social listening and just having a finger on the pulse will help them adapt their approach to avoid future controversies

Braukmann agreed with Anamalai, adding that a successful crisis strategy must come from a place of sincerity and humility. With regards to the Israel-Palestine conflict, brands need to show empathy to connect emotionally with the audience and express regret. 

"In the context of an ongoing boycott movement in Malaysia, ZUS Coffee must take strategic and empathetic steps to maintain and rebuild its customer base," said Braukmann. 

This may look like clarifying their stance on the Israel-Palistine conflict with a clear statement, engaging with the community through social media interactions and public forums to listen to concerns and gather feedback and supporting social causes, according to Braukmann. 

In addition, ZUS Coffee can train its staff on sensitivity and empathy and re-evaluate marketing and branding to align with local values. It can also enhance communication and keep customers informed about steps the company is taking to address concerns through regular updates on their website and social media as well as promote ethical practices such as fair trade and sustainability, she said. 

Join us on 12 June 2024 for an exciting experience as Content360 makes its debut in Malaysia! Brace yourself to join the crème de la crème of the content marketing industry hailing from across the region. Immerse yourself in a dynamic atmosphere, and uncover the latest trends with thought leaders and solution providers from the realm of content.

Related articles:
#BlockOut24 for dummies: 101 on the movement forcing influencers to take a stand  
McDonald's to acquire 225 Israel outlets from franchisee
How the boycott in Malaysia is impacting content creators

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