Brands make mistakes. After all, they’re run by humans. PR folks definitely face challenging decisions when mistakes pop up, but I think it’s fair to say that customers always appreciate it when the brand owns up to the shortcoming. The only thing that beats owning up to the mistake is straight-up OWNING it.
Lagunitas has been doing just that for a few years now. Let me back up.
I was at a great beer shop in Brooklyn recently, ogling the array of wacky and witty names, when I noticed a Lagunitas bottle that had “SUCKS” plastered beneath “Lagunitas,” effectively reading as “Lagunitas Sucks.” I thought that maybe a joker employee of the store hated the beer and had stamped the out-of-place word on the bottle, but after checking out the bottles behind it (identical!) and doing a quick Google search, I realized that this was, in fact, the name of the beer.
Since it’s basically the #1, so-obvious-it-has-never-needed-to-be-spoken rule of branding and marketing to never disparage your own brand, I had to find out the story behind this. After some digging, I learned that it goes back to 2011 when Lagunitas had some production issues and was unable to produce their much-beloved seasonal Brown Shugga’ Ale. Basically a disaster, and one that the brewery knew their loyal customers would be upset about. Some brands would issue an explanation. Some, an explanation and an apology. Lagunitas, on the other hand, felt so bad about their failure that they decided to publicly punish themselves by creating a substitute brew and calling it Lagunitas Sucks. What a great way of using a product name to play off the brewery name while also being so utterly self-deprecating that their customers can only love them more.
Admittedly, this particular execution of using self-deprecation successfully can’t be replicated in many industries. If Mattel wants to apologize for decades of unrealistically-proportioned dolls, they can’t release a “Barbie Sucks” doll. But Lagunitas still imparts a great lesson that any brand can learn from: If you make a mistake, be honest about it and find a way to show your customers how badly you feel about it. People love to see the humanity in brands, and gaffes can be the perfect time to let it shine.