Pizza Hut has apologised for running a promotion with The Sun on Sunday, just two weeks after Paperchase was criticised for doing the same with the Daily Mail.

The controversy erupted after Pizza Hut flagged a promotion it was running with The Sun on Sunday, which offered a free pizza to every consumer. Some critics quickly said they would switch their patronage to other businesses - especially those in Liverpool, where The Sun is boycotted.

One Twitter user said: "I'm never going to set foot in your business again." "No....not if you have to stoop so low as deal with that rag!!!" said another. "I will no longer patronise Pizza Hut given that they work with The Sun," was a popular sentiment, as was: "Never ever buying a pizza from here ever again now." Another complainant Howard Cover claimed Pizza Hut was "finished" in Liverpool.

Less than five hours after first posting details about the promotion, Pizza Hut said in a statement on Saturday night (2 December): "We apologise for any offence caused as a result of this partnership. The aim of this offer was simply to give our customers the chance to enjoy a free pizza to share with their family and friends."

The Sun declined to comment, but confirmed the free pizza promotion is still running until Thursday (7 December) as originally planned.

Not everyone understood why Pizza Hut needed to apologise, with many saying it was a matter of free choice. Steve Huish said: "Whats [sic] the problem ? totally confused. Its [sic] sells Pizzas & they advertising. Whether its [sic] a shoddy paper or not is a matter of opinion." While Carol said: "I don't read the Sun but you should not feel the need to apologise for this partnership. This is a democratic country epitomised by free speech. You will offend many more by apologising to a small minority who are trying to censor free speech."

Many however deemed the apology "grovelling". Howard Jones, a Conservative councillor in Surrey, said: "Craven apology for advertising your legal wares in a mass market paper. Please find some backbone." Amit Aggarwal also condemned Pizza Hut's tweet, saying: "Honestly, grow some backbone and stop with the grovelling apologies." Mark Di Stefano, a BuzzFeed reporter, also branded it a "groveling apology" and said Pizza Hut had "done a Paperchase".

Paperchase was shamed online in November for running a promotion for free Christmas wrapping paper with the Daily Mail. On 20 November, the stationery retailer tweeted an apology which read: "We've listened to you about this weekend's newspaper promotion. We now know we were wrong to do this - we're truly sorry and we won't ever do it again. Thanks for telling us what you really think and we apologise if we have let you down on this one. Lesson learnt."

Stop Funding Hate, which tries to persuade advertisers to pull their support from the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express, condemned the Pizza Hut promotion because of The Sun's "hate speech".

Responding to Pizza Hut's apology, the campaign group stated on its Twitter account: "We understand that you need to run promotions, but did you know that the Sun had been called out for "hate speech" by the United Nations?" This referred to an incident from 2015 when the UN Human Rights Chief urged UK tabloids to curb incitement to hatred after The Sun described migrants "like cockroaches".

Stop Funding Hate added: "The Sun was also called out and accused of "fuelling prejudice" in an international report on racist violence." This was a reference to a European Commission against Racism and Intolerance report in 2016, which also referred to the article in which columnist Katie Hopkins compared refugees to cockroaches.

Shortly after Paperchase apologised, Stop Funding Hate thanked them by saying: "Congratulations to Paperchase, who have promised not to run any further promotional partnerships with the Daily Mail. They have acted promptly in response to customer concerns - this is great news in the run-up to Christmas!"