Did Tesco get it right with its apology?

Tesco's online apology
Tesco’s online apology – click to see text full-size
Following the horsemeat beefburger story earlier this week, today Tesco has taken out ads in newspapers and implemented a full-screen pop-up [right] on its website to apologise to customers.

Tesco is clearly – and rightly – worried that the story is going to put off customers and lose them trade, so the speed and proportion of its action seems totally correct.

However, I’m more interested in the words and tone used and whether it really will resonate with customers.

Are Tesco ‘really’ sorry?

The first thing that strikes me is the headline – “We apologise”.

Now correct if I’m wrong, but that doesn’t really sound as if there’s any regret there. Not only does ‘apologise’ imply that they’re saying it because they have to, but it’s not very friendly.

There’s a possible legal issue behind using the word ‘apologise’ – which might excuse Tesco – but otherwise, what’s wrong with the good, old-fashioned “We’re sorry”. I’d have believed Tesco far more, if they’d used that.

There’s PR spin at work, but I’m not convinced it’s really aimed at the customers.


The other overriding thing I felt when reading it, is how formally the apology has been written.

Take the first line: “You have probably read or heard that we have had a serious problem…”

I know this is a corporate ‘ad’, but why not use contractions? “You’ve probably read…” and “we’ve had…” would have read and sounded far more normal.

There are countless numbers of these throughout the text and the overall formality of the text makes it clear that a copywriter has been allowed nowhere near this statement.

Contact us? Really?

“If you have any concerns, you can find out how to contact us at the bottom of this page”… if you’ve brought a magnifying glass with you, that is.

Tesco’s contact details are so small, as to be worthless. Yet again, the feeling that isn’t really a heartfelt communication, rather part of a wholesale PR firefighting strategy looms large.

Phew, we’ve placated the shareholders

Given that £300m was wiped off the Tesco market value after the story hit, I think we can quite happily assume that the ‘apology’ was also sending out a big message to the stock market and Tesco shareholders… We’re still in charge.

Did the apology ring true for you, or was it just a piece of corporate CYA?

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