Is it so hard to say sorry? Revisiting image restoration theory in the context of Australian supermarkets

Louise Grimmer


This study examines public apology in the context of the retail industry, specifically the Australian supermarket industry. The study revisits Benoit’s (1995) Image Restoration Theory in order to extend its application to Australian supermarkets. Image Restoration Theory provides a typology of five strategic responses for reparation of image following a crisis, controversy or challenge. Using a multiple case study approach, this study analyses the strategic responses provided by Australia’s two major supermarkets – Coles and Woolworths – to protect their image in the wake of a crisis. The severity level of each crisis is determined and the findings of this study reveal the act of apologising (the Mortification strategy in Image Restoration Theory) is only employed in the most serious of the four cases. The study’s findings are extended to discuss the reasons why Australia’s two major supermarket corporations do not apologise (say ‘sorry’) to their customers, shareholders, suppliers and stakeholders.


public relations; crisis communication; image restoration theory; retailing; supermarkets

Full Text:



Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (2014). Retrieved from

Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (2014b). Retrieved from

Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (2015). Retrieved from

Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (2015b). Retrieved from

Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (2015c). Retrieved from

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. (2014). Retrieved from

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. (2015). Retrieved from

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. (2015b). Retrieved from

Barton, L. (2001). Crisis in Organizations (2nd Edition). Cincinnati: South-Western College Publishing.

Bastick, J. (2015, April 15). shamed for naff ANZAC promo

Benoit, W.L. (1995). Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: A Theory of Image Restoration Strategies. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Benoit, W.L. (1995b). Sears’ repair of its auto service image: Image restoration discourse in the corporate sector. Communication Studies, 46: 89-105.

Benoit, W.L. (1997). Hugh Grant’s image restoration discourse: An actor apologizes. Communication Quarterly, 45: 251-267.

Benoit, W.L. (2000). Another visit to the theory of image restoration strategies. Communication Quarterly, 48 (1): 40-43.

Benoit, W.L. & Brinson, S. (1999). Queen Elizabeth’s image repair discourse: Insensitive royal or compassionate Queen? Public Relations Review, 25: 145-156.

Benoit, W.L. & Brinson, S. (2009). AT&T: “Apologies are not enough”. Communication Quarterly, 42 (1): 75-88.

Benoit, W.L. & Czerwinski, A. (1997). A critical analysis of USAir’s Image Repair Discourse. The Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication, 60: 38-57.

Benoit, W.L. & Drew, S. (1997). Appropriateness and Effectiveness of Image Repair Strategies. Communication Reports, 10 (2): 153-163.

Benoit, W.L. & Hirson, D. (2001). Doonesbury versus the Tobacco Institute: The Smoke Starters’ Coupon. Communication Quarterly, 49: 279-294.

Benoit, W.L. & Lindsey, J.J. (1987). Argument strategies: Antidote to Tylenol’s poisoned image. Journal of the American Forensic Association, 23: 136-146.

Benoit, W.L. & Pang, A. (2008). Crisis Communication and Image Repair Discourse. In Hansen-Horn, T.L. & Dostal, B. (Eds.), Public Relations: From Theory to Practice. Mass: Pearson.

Benson, J.A. (1988). Crisis revisited: An analysis of the strategies used by Tylenol in the second tampering episode. Central States Speech Journal, 38: 49-66.

Brinson, S. & Benoit, W.L. (1996). Dow Corning’s image repair strategies in the breast implant crisis. Communication Quarterly, 44 (1): 29-41.

Brinson, S. & Benoit, W.L. (1999). The tarnished start: Restoring Texaco’s damaged public image. Management Communication Quarterly, 12: 483-509.

Burke, K. (1970). The rhetoric of religion. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Burke, K. (1973). The philosophy of literary form (3rd Edition). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Burns, J.P. & Bruner, M.S. 2000. Revisiting the Theory of Image Restoration Strategies. Communication Quarterly, 48 (1): 27-39.

Coles. (2014). Retrieved from

Compton, J. & Compton, J.L. (2014). College Sports, Losing Seasons, and Image Repair Through Open Letters to Fans. Communication & Sport, 2 (4): 345-362.

Compton, J. & Miller, B. (2011). Image repair in late night comedy: Letterman and the Palin joke controversy. Public Relations Review, 37: 415-421.

Coombs, T. (1999). Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing, and Responding. Los Angeles, Sage.

Facebook/Woolworths. (2015).

Furgerson, J.L. & Benoit, W. L. (2013). Limbaugh’s Loose Lips: Rush Limbaugh’s Image Repair after the Sandra Fluke Controversy. Journal of Radio & Audio Media, 20 (2): 273-291.

Grimmer, L. (2016, July 12). Keeping up with the shoppers, The Mercury, Fairfax Media.

Jung, T., Graeff, R. & Shim, W. 2011. Good for Samsung is Good for Korea: Image Restoration Strategies Used by Samsung After a Whistle-Blowing Corruption Scandal. The Open Communication Journal, 5: 23-28.

Knox, M. (2015). Supermarket Monsters: The price of Coles and Woolworths’ Dominance. Collingwood: RedBack.

Oles, D.L. (2010). Deny, Delay, Apologize: The Oprah Winfrey Image-Defense Playbook. Northwest Journal of Communication, 39: 37-63.

Pfahl, M.E. & Bates, B.R. (2008). This is not a race, this is a farce: Formula One and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tire crisis. Public Relations Review, 34: 135-144.

Rolfe, J. (2014). Coles denies standover tactics claims made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The Cairns Post. Retrieved from

Ryan, H.R. (1982). Kategoria and apologia: On their rhetorical criticism as a speech set. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 68: 254-261.

Schonbach, P. (1980). A category system for account phases. European Journal of Social Psychology, 10: 195-200.

Scott, M.H. & Lyman, S.M. (1968). Accounts. American Sociological Review, 33: 46-62.

Sensis. (2016). Sensis e-Business Report 2016: The Online Experience of Small and Medium Enterprises. Retrieved from

Sensis. (2016b). Sensis Social Media Report 2016: How Australian people and businesses are using social media. Retrieved from

Special Broadcasting Service. (2014). Retrieved from

Sturges, D.L. (1994). Communicating through Crisis: A Strategy for Organizational Survival. Management Communication Quarterly, 7 (3): 297-316.

Tam, L. & Huang, P. Organisational Crises in the Media: Crisis Response Strategies and News Coverage. Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, 17 (1): 79-90.

The Australian Newspaper Online. (2012). Retrieved from Viewed 28 March 2016.

The Australian Newspaper Online (2015). Retrieved from

The Sydney Morning Herald Online (2013). Retrieved from

The Sydney Morning Herald Online (2015). Retrieved from Viewed 28 March 2016.

Ware, B.L. & Linkugel, W.A. (1973). They spoke in defense of themselves: On the generic criticism of apologia. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 59: 273-283.

Wilson, G.L. (1976). A Strategy of Explanation: Richard M. Nixon’s August 8, 1974, Resignation Address. Communication Quarterly, 24 (3): 14-20.

Yin, R.R. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods. Sage Publications.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The University of Newcastle
ISSN - 1839-8227