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An apology from the Cillit Bang team…

So this afternoon, I got an e-mail which I’m pretty sure is from the team who handle Cillit Bang. I can’t tell for certain because I it’s from someone at cohnwolfe.com, and I don’t know enough about the relationships between these various organisations to be able to say that it’s totally reliable. Anyway, the e-mail contains what appears to be a fairly honourable and sincere apology for the whole Barry Scott comments-as-marketing fiasco that I wrote about on Friday. And although I still have significant reservations about the idea of fictional marketing characters leaving messages and commenting on other people’s sites, I’ve decided to take them at their word, accept the apology and leave it at that. The e-mail that they sent is below:

We are writing to you in response to the Barry Scott posting on 30th September 2005. We’re all aware that Barry Scott, the advertising character is a marketing creation and we have been responsible for raising his awareness. The posting on 30th September was unplanned and an error of judgement and we unequivocally apologise for this. We recognise that it was inappropriate in context.

The Barry Scott character has appeared in a number of spoof websites and weblogs, created by people unconnected to the Reckitt Benckiser brand. The weblog posting on your site was not endorsed by Reckitt Benckiser or any of the advertising agencies that are mentioned and was a one off error from which lessons have been learnt. We are sorry for any offence it has unwittingly caused.

We would like to have an opportunity to apologise personally, if you would like to speak to us please do let us know the best way to reach you.

Yours sincerely,

The Cillit Bang team

Addendum: I wrote one more follow-up on this subject called: A few odd bits of detective work in which I tried to tie up some of the loose ends of the story.

47 replies on “An apology from the Cillit Bang team…”

Cohn Wolfe are a PR agency who specialise in Crisis Management. Congratulations – you’re officially a crisis :))
Well done on your efforts with this. Glad you got a response!

I still have significant reservations about the idea of fictional marketing characters leaving messages and commenting on other people’s sites
What about fictional non-marketing characters?

The say it was an error of judgement, it wasn’t done by them, and they’ve learnt lessons. It’s late and maybe i’m reading it wrong, but: huh?
We recognise that it was inappropriate in context.
I’d ask them to explain in which context it would be appropriate – and for a years supply of cleaning products.

Unforgivable.
I don’t believe for a moment that Cillit Bang didn’t know what tactics would be used. When they signed for the ad campaign they signed on to Barry Scott. That they didn’t care how damaging this sort of thing is to human culture is telling.

I’m sure I’m not the only one confused. If none of the advertising agencies say they did it, then:
a) Who did?
b) was it “officially sanctioned” by any of them?

I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when they are (shudder) advertisers.
It’s likely that whoever was “acting” Barry Scott that day was out looking for opportunities to gratuitously insert the product (whatever it is) into high-impact blogs. But it’s also possible that that person did have a similar experience to yours and was genuinely moved to help, and didn’t stop to think about the brand connection at that moment. Even advertisers have real human motivations sometimes.
Weirdly enough, the reverse used to happen to me: I always WAS myself online, on behalf of a company, but some people assumed that I was actually a team acting under a pseudonym. The clinching argument for my reality is: no advertiser in their right mind would make up a character with THIS name.

Excuse me if this is totally unappropriate, but i knew the brand Cillit Bang before this, and always thought that wouldn’t be a very clever name to carry in English-speaking countries. Because, well, you know… it looks so much like Clit Bang.

It’s interesting to note that Cillit Bang is supposed to be good at cleaning up everyone else’s homes, butit isn’t able to clean up its own act. 🙂

I’m willing to bet that whoever the person is whose job it is to go around leaving messages on weblogs got a bit involved with your post and left a comment, temporarily forgetting that he was an active part of a marketing scheme…
…at least I’m hoping to God that he did, otherwise my faith in humaity as we know it will be totally destroyed.

Agree with Lee. Sounds to me like this is Cohn & Wolfe apologising for their own actions. It wasn’t the ad agency who made the comment at all, but the PR agency tasks with promoting the ad campaign (this happens a lot, and it’s dumb).
Does the originating IP address in the header of the email you received bear any resemblance to that of the original comment?

I’m swithering – faith in humanity (it was a mistake, we ARE sorry) or my usual pessimism (they knew what they were doing and this is a PR apology).
Either way I think your approach is best Tom. Water under the bridge now.

So basically they’re implying that it was wrong to leave this comment (it was), but not that commentspamming with semi ontopic posts using a fictional marketing character is.
If they’d post “I really like BBC radio 3 more than radio 1” on one of your BBC posts, signing as Mr. Proper and linking to his blog, it would still be wrong. Lousy spammers..

If Cillit Bang outsource their ad campaign to an advertising company, and the ad campaign then outsource it to a PR company, then they are all at fault, and I have no sympathy for any of them, especially not Cillit Bang. Serves them right for keeping their interaction with the public at arm’s length.

The posting on 30th September was unplanned and an error of judgement … The weblog posting on your site was not endorsed by Reckitt Benckiser or any of the advertising agencies that are mentioned
This reply seems to have defused your anger, Tom, almost to the point of replacing it with embarrassment – “so sorry, my mistake”/”no no no, my mistake”… The first thing I want to say is that, even if it was genuine human error (Deirdre & Rob’s scenario), it was still an inappropriate combination of comment & link – and you’d still be right to call them on it. Secondly, we don’t know that that is what happened (and probably never will). It could have been a PR person working alone who genuinely thought this was a good strategy for plugging the brand; it could even have been a strategy agreed by a PR team, who are now apologising for a collective error of judgment. While that possibility remains – and this apology certainly doesn’t eliminate it – your reaction looks both justified & necessary: if anything like that is going on, it needs nipping in the bud.

I agree with Phil. I read this post late last night, and I was originally with Tom’s position — a sort of “Oops, my bad” feeling. But having slept on it, I’m angry with these bastards again.
What about the comment “Barry Scott” left on Tom’s original post at October 2, 2005 05:34 PM? They haven’t apologised for that. “The Cillit Bang team” hasn’t the decency to apologise under his/her real name. And the email reads more like “it was an accident” than an admission of responsibility.
The original comment was inappropriate full stop, and spamming comments is a sleazy practice. If they had any spines at all, they’d admit this, apologise for it, and cease forthwith.

Amazing story, Tom.
There’s a business ethics issue here, it seems to me, and the whole concept of the Cillit Bang fake blog and the comment you posted about surely is contrary to Reckit & Benckiser’s own business ethics policy, clause number 4:
“All employees must accept responsibility for maintaining and enhancing the Company‚Äôs reputation for integrity and fairness in its business dealings. In its everyday business transactions the Company must be seen to be dealing even-handedly and honestly with all its customers, consumers, suppliers, employees and others with whom the Company has a relationship.”
Doc here: http://www.reckitt.com/documentlib/normal/codeofbusinessconduct-policy-4.pdf. Warning: a pdf.)
I can’t imagine this little saga will do anything to enhance that company’s reputation.
That aside, I wouldn’t say that the ‘team apology’ is anywhere near good enough.

I’m not saying that I’m thrilled about the whole thing, because I’m not – I’m just saying that until demonstrated otherwise, I’m going to assume that the apology is genuine and that they’ll avoid making the same mistake again. I might be having a more detailed conversation with the organisation concerned today, and if I do so and I find that they’re just fobbing me off with an apology to shut me up, I won’t be thrilled obviously. I’m not in any way feeling sheepish or embarrassed about hauling them over the coals, but nor am I interested in just making their lives more difficult because I can.

Not that I currently do any cleaning in my house because I’m lazy but I certainly won’t be buying this particular product when I get round to doing any. As long as you’re satisfied with any eventual outcome to this Tom then that’s the main thing

CohnWolfe will have been used – rather than a direct email from JWT (part of the phenomenally huge WPP Advertising Group) – as JWT or Y&R will need to keep up their image of such “tantalising marketing allure”, and such “brilliance in their field of vision”, and their “global position as the Number 1 … yada yada yada” etc. and not allow something quite so ‘human’ in an email as an apology stating quite how dumb, crass, pointless, ridiculous, totally inapt, pregnant with ineptitude, out-of-touch the whole thing really has become, and how that might reflect rather too closely on the empty, hollow, and shallow values (no values at all?) that marketing and advertising (and marketing and advertising workers) might share! An advertising company might have the motto “Long Live The High King, Queen and Priestess of Ephemera: we Guard Their Highest Shrine, and Daily Build an Altar to Them!” A crass episode if ever there was one, but upon reflection, not entirely invidious …

I call shenanigans!
That’s a carefully worded message from Cohn Wolfe.
At no point to they actually admit culpability.
They instead say there’s been a number of sites on the internet that are not connected officially to the brand (that techno remix probably). And they are sorry you are upset.
Hence they’re hinting, but not stating, that the message wasn’t even posted by people working for Cillit Bang.
Which is clearly bollocks, as if it was nothing to do with them they wouldn’t bother with inference; they would be shouting loudly, “not us, guv!”

Nice work – I wonder if this was someone’s idea of viral marketing which went wrong – I have had many conversations with people who wonder where the boundaries lie in this very new area of online advertising – all too often agencies get carried away with the coolness of the “viral idea” and forget the severe consequences of getting it wrong because of how closely you are communicating with the consumer.

For background:
Established by Bob Cohn & Norman Wolfe in 1970, Cohn & Wolfe was acquired by Young & Rubicam in 1984 and functions as an independent line of business within the group. In 2000, with the merger of Young & Rubicam Inc. and The WPP Group plc, Cohn & Wolfe became a WPP operating company.” – [source]

Can I just say, I’ve used Cilit Bang, and it’s rubbish?
I realise that that doesn’t clear anything up, but then, neither did the ‘Bang, frankly.

I wrote the story Susan (and that Tom linklogged) and spoke to Cohn & Wolfe about who was responsible: they admitted that both comments came from inside their office. Which is more than they said in their initial apology.

This only shows how many agencies there are out there that doesnt understand a thing about how to talk to bloggers. Reckit & Benckiser’s might have been “outed” by you, but I believe that they (and Cilit Bang) are the ultimate winners in the end. Just see how many conversation have been generated around their client Cilit Bang. I forone had never heard about them before – now I want to know what it is…

Can we say truth in advertising? Will they ever learn? (No, that’s not what they get paid to do…tell the truth that is.)
Tom, well done. Nice digging and clearly and logically outlined. Gold star, chief.

Well done you for making an example of them.
I used to work for the parent company (WPP) of the advertising agencies you talked of …i feel ashamed to admit that right now.
Best of luck with your father.

“Well done you for making an example of them.
I used to work for the parent company (WPP) of the advertising agencies you talked of …i feel ashamed to admit that right now.
Best of luck with your father.

Yeap. I work on my father to:)

I disagree that Cillit Bang would specifically know what was going on. It was probably some fat management type hiring a viral company to try and be clever and market their products to a younger crowd. I suggest perhaps writing to Cillit bang and suggesting they stop using this advertising company.

Looks like their viral ‘marketing’ has done something – how many times have you mentioned the brand on this blog? You probably think its bad PR – don’t you bet on it. no such thing as bad publicity?

I work for Reckitt Benckiser which makes this product. I happened on this blog whilst browsing the net for something else. I’ve tried to work out what happened in this case, but am a bit sketchy on the details. From what has been said above, it appears as though Cillit Bang hired an agency to do some viral marketing for them. Assuming this is true, then someone in the agency has written something completely innappropriate on the web. Cillit Bang are clearly sorry that this statement was made, but it was clearly someone in the ad agency being an idiot. No-one in the Cillit Bang team would do something like this as it is so absurdly bad for the brand.
This is the only time I have come across something like this from my company, and it is worth considering this. If someone does know of this happening on a larger scale, please post some details, and I will follow it up myself as I am proud of the company I work for.
Bear in mind that this is just one example, and no-one is perfect. The company is one of the better ones – as an example, the CEO has launched a tree planting scheme which will offset 100% of the carbon emissions from the manufacture of our products over the next 2 years. I don’t know of any other company that has done something like that (in a similar industry).
Not saying that the company is perfect, but just that there are always 2 sides to every story.

Hi guys,
found your site more/less out of shear desperation – originally I was trying to find what’s called Reckitt Benckiser’s “Customer relation desk”. No luck, perhaps such a noble company doesn’t need one.
Anyway, after reading your comments, findings, responses, etc., I’ve got felling that I am witnessing an academic discussion at some university….
So, forgive me if I say this:
Too bad there is no law to recall products as they have in the car industry. Reckitt Benckiser and any of his employees “apology” to the the customer regarding of screwed marketing and “God-knows-what-else” in relation to the Cillit Bang is a spit to the face of the consumer.
I am just a little guy, but I swear to God I NEVER buy another Reckitt Benckiser product and I hope to God there will be more people like me.
Cheers, Pavel
PS: anybody knows the address of their (if any) “Customer relations desk”, i.e. Reckitt Benckiser,
or, so called “Cillit Bang team?”

I just wish the loud mouthed s.o.b would stop all the shouting in the ad’s. Most of us are not deaf or stupid and there is no need for a voice that loud just to advertise a cleaning product that quite frankly is not that good.
Just my 3 pence worth.

Very disappointed with the Cillit Bang product, they should rename it Cillit Balls. Try cleaning the grouting in a shower with it! It is the scrubbing brush that brings success, not Cillit Bang.

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