Verizon Makes a Super Apology but Consumers Block That Call

by Tom Burg
February 4, 2019

Many brands use the Super Bowl as an opportunity to launch new campaigns and introduce new spokespeople. However, Verizon’s tack this year is damage control. The leading telecom provider wants to repair the fallout from throttling firefighters’ data plans last year.

It’s new advertisement focuses on “first responders” and features NFL players and a coach whose lives were saved by first responders. It aired during last night’s Super Bowl broadcast.  

But will their new ad win back the hearts and minds of consumers? Is a Super Bowl ad even the best strategy for making an apology? And, more fundamentally, is Verizon’s public relations snafu one that it needs to fix in the first place?

We ran some tests on the Alpha platform to see whether the ads will succeed or will backfire and seem like more corporate PR spin. 350 adults in the United States answered fixed-response and open-ended questions about the campaign.

How Consumers Reacted to Last Year’s Mistake

Before making any large marketing or product investment decision, it’s important to test your core assumptions. We tested consumers’ reactions to the news about Verizon throttling firefighters’ data plans to learn how it affected the company’s image.

64% of consumers reported a negative reaction to the news and 41% said that they were not at all likely to consider Verizon as a mobile phone service provider.

These results aren’t surprising, but it’s always important to question your most basic assumptions before making major investment decisions.

What’s The Best Way to Apologize?

Unfortunately, Verizon is not the first corporation to make a mistake that hurts its brand. In the past year alone, for example, a United Airlines flight attendant who was caught on video dragging a customer off of a plane, and Facebook’s data privacy issues have dominated news cycles.

There are many cases of corporations apologizing for unethical practices or poor customer service. Some of the most common strategies are running a sale or free promotion or publishing a letter written by the CEO, but Verizon’s approach is different. We tested whether running a Super Bowl ad is the best approach.

Only 3% of respondents say that running a Super Bowl is the best way to make up for a mistake.

Consumer-Centric Advertising

The insights above are cause to consider whether a Super Bowl ad is the best approach, but if you’re going to run an ad, you want to make sure that it gets the message across effectively. Verizon seems to have knocked this piece of the puzzle out of the park.  

64% percent of mobile phone service subscribers had a favorable initial reaction to watching the ad.

Many respondents said that the message was clear and easy to understand. One user who reacted positively to the ad said:

“I felt like Verizon did a good job portraying what they were trying to do. They used a real life story to show how much they appreciate first responders. Knowing the story helps us understand what they are saying.”

The ad’s messages of sacrifice and duty clearly resonated with study respondents, who recorded reactions similar to this one:

They are almost superheroes. It takes a strong person and family to take on that job knowing you might not make it back to your family.”

There was an interesting age-based divergence in enthusiasm for the ad, with 69% of viewers aged 45-54 and 72% of those aged 55-64 rating the commercial effective or highly effective – a stark contrast with other age groups.

Additional tests gauged consumer sentiment about whether they felt the ad exploited the first responders, and what elements of the campaign they found most appealing. One typical response was a good indicator of what type of reaction Verizon can expect: “I find it appealing how it accurately associates Verizon with a serious heartfelt situation but keeps the commercial focused on the situation.”

It seem that Verizon’s Super Bowl ad is effective, however, it may not be enough to win back some consumers. Only 9% of respondents felt strongly that the Super Bowl ad made up for its mistake.

We’ll be testing more advertisements that air during the Super Bowl. Sign up below to get notified about our latest reports. 

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Tom Burg

SVP of Marketing at Alpha, the platform that enables management teams to make data-driven decisions about users, products, and new markets.