How brands harness the gravitas of print in difficult times

By Jessie Sampson


London, United Kingdom

Using newspaper print ads to apologise following a crisis is by no means a new strategy for brands. Remember back in 2013 when, with the horsemeat scandal dominating headlines, Tesco made a direct apology with bold, long-copy press ads?

“Putting newspapers at the heart of our media activity allowed us to demonstrate how we were taking responsibility for events as they unfolded, so much so that our adverts went way beyond advertising to actually becoming the news,” explained the supermarket’s head of brand advertising, commenting at the 2013 Newsworks Planning Awards.

KFC ran a humourous print ad after running out of chicken.
KFC ran a humourous print ad after running out of chicken.

Fast forward five years, and newspapers continue to be a favoured way for brands to communicate directly with readers via long-copy ads or open letters. Here are some recent examples:

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)

Injecting a dose of humour into the formula, KFC grabbed attention with its “FCK” ad in February, garnering news coverage and industry applause for its approach.

Created by Mother London, the simple but effective play on words apologised for the brand’s chicken shortage, which saw hundreds of stores temporarily close. “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal,” the copy begins, before frankly conceding it had been a “hell of a week” and thanking customers for bearing with it.

The severity of Facebook’s data breach dictated an apology in print.
The severity of Facebook’s data breach dictated an apology in print.


Following The Observer’s Cambridge Analytica revelations, Facebook took to newspapers to address its data leak. The ad, which is signed by Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, leads with: “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”

The following copy doesn’t name the Cambridge Analytica scandal directly, but references “a quiz app built by a university researcher that leaked Facebook data of millions of people in 2014.”

In an article for The Drum, Ebiquity’s UK CEO Morag Blazey explained why the social media platform turned to print newspapers following the revelations:

“Print possesses gravity and authority not held by newer channels,” she said. “The very gravity of Facebook’s situation dictated a print apology. Print is where the Facebook story first broke, and so it is appropriate that the apology starts here. There is also the question of context: Print is a news environment, not a social environment — the connotations of apologising via social may have undermined the apology.”


In the wake of The Times’ Oxfam sex scandal investigation, the charity ran a long-copy ad addressed “To Oxfam supporters, friends, and volunteers” that stated:

“We are so sorry for the appalling behaviour that happened in our name. More than anything, we are sorry to the people of Haiti and other places where the conduct of Oxfam staff was reprehensible.” It is signed by Caroline Thomson, chair of trustees at Oxfam GB, and Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Newsworks’ CEO Vanessa Clifford said of the ad, “In times of crisis, brands often turn to newspapers to speak directly to readers in a newsworthy, trusted, and engaged environment — in the case of Oxfam’s ad, it’s no coincidence that it appears in the title where the news story originally broke.

“Putting a statement like this in print holds gravitas and garners attention, becoming a news story in itself, while also allowing the brand to apologise, reassure, and lay out its plans for change via a long-copy approach.”

The above examples address very different issues, adopting different tones accordingly. But what they all demonstrate is that newspapers are a key component for brands wanting to speak to readers in a newsworthy and engaged environment.

About Jessie Sampson

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