PR Lesson: Ben, Jerry and Lin-Sanity
Well-handled, but sometimes an official apology
rings more sincere with a little less officialness
Oops. Ben & Jerry’s put pieces of fortune cookie in their Lin-Sanity frozen yogurt. When accusations of racial stereotyping erupted, Ben & Jerry’s did two smart things: (1) They replaced the fortune cookie bits with waffle cone bits. (2) They issued an apology.
Well done. Except, well, the apology was stuffy. Corporate-y. Arguably off-brand for Ben & Jerry’s.
Before I share a suggested rewrite, please read their statement:
“On behalf of Ben & Jerry’s Boston Scoop Shops we offer a heartfelt apology if anyone was offended by our handmade Linsanity flavor that we offered at our Harvard Square location. We are proud and honored to have Jeremy Lin hail from one of our fine, local universities and we are huge sports fans. We were swept up in the nationwide Linsanity momentum. Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA, and recognize that he was a local Harvard graduate. We try demonstrate our commitment as a Boston-based, valued-led business and if we failed in this instance we offer our sincere apologies.”
The tone, word choices and stuffy phrases would make any investment banking firm proud. But that’s not the Ben & Jerry’s we know and love. Not that they asked, but I might have suggested something more Ben & Jerry-ish. Not funny like their product names — racial insensitivity isn’t funny — but shorter and more real. Like, perhaps:
“We apologize. The idea behind our Linsanity flavor was to honor Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise in the NBA and recognize him as a Harvard graduate. Ben & Jerry’s deplores any form of racial stereotyping. Clearly we hadn’t thought this through, and we promise to pay better attention in the future. A sincere THANK YOU to all who called this to our attention.”
Now, I wouldn’t write an apology like that for just any organization. But Ben & Jerry’s has trained us to expect them to speak with a non corporate-y voice. They should keep it up, even — or perhaps especially — when they’re apologizing. That way we can know it’s really Ben & Jerry’s speaking, and not some stuffed-shirt PR pro paid by the word.