It’s not often that a brand gets an apology right. Remember when Pepsi apologized for the tragic Kendall Jenner commercial with “we didn’t mean it”? These corporate public relations-approved apologies only give the impression of being sorry and backtrack their original intentions to us.
Sean O’Meara, co-author of The Apology Impulse and public relations professional, argues that the corporate world has ruined the sanctity of the apology by failing to say sorry.
“If you’re going to apologize when you fail, you don’t get to speak to your own virtues,” he argues. “The worst habit an apologizer can fall into is leading with a qualifying character reference, or the Schrodinger’s apology.”
There have been a couple of pretty interesting brand apologies in the last few weeks. Let’s take a look at what worked (and what definitely didn’t):
In this controversial commercial, we see a young woman surprised with a Peloton bike. She takes multiple selfies over a year-long journey to get “fit”. Can you spot what riled people up?
Since the commercial’s release, people have taken to Twitter in droves to poke fun at it.
Look I don’t want to be “The Peloton Ad Guy” anymore but the newest commercial about the vlogging 116 lb woman’s YEARLONG fitness journey to becoming a 112 lb woman who says “I didn’t realize how much this would change me” is just ri-god-damn-diculous. Come on.
— Clue Heywood (@ClueHeywood) November 25, 2019
The only way to enjoy that Peloton ad is to think of it as the first minute of an episode of Black Mirror
— Jess Dweck (@TheDweck) December 2, 2019
How did Peloton react to this backlash? They apologized…I think?
Ping-ponging the blame back to the consumers who took offense at your marketing is not apologizing.
They’re trying to remove themselves from blame entirely. This does not work. In fact, Peloton’s stock fell 9.12%, which stock analysts found was due to the negative publicity over the ad. This amounted to a $1.5 billion loss in market value. Negative press and failure to apologize properly can impact your bottom line.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for everyone involved. The actress from the commercial, Monica Ruiz, was approached by Aviation Gin, which Ryan Reynolds is a stakeholder of. They made this reactive commercial to piggyback off of the backlash:
It doesn’t explicitly mention Peloton but if you compare the two titles of the videos, it’s pretty clear.
Speaking of completely missing the mark, let’s take a look at a recent social media post by Nielsen Norman Group.
Yes. That really happened.
I think this Twitter user sums it up pretty nicely:
I find this so shockingly tone deaf and sexist that I can’t even figure out how to respond. https://t.co/OZtxdMWc6x
— Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson) December 5, 2019
The original tweet by Nielsen no longer exists. Instead of apologizing, they tried to sweep the whole thing under the rug. They deleted the tweet, swapped out every mention of the word “diva” for “snob” in the article, and redirected the links.
While they took action to “correct” their mistake, their radio silence and lack of taking any responsibility did not go down well with users.
A favorite newsletter of over 30,000 marketers, The Daily Carnage could do no wrong in the eyes of their subscribers…until recently.
Last Friday, they included a quote from Woody Allen. Subscribers were understandably upset.
Unlike the other brands I’ve mentioned in this article, The Daily Carnage (owned by Carney agency) stepped up. They knew they’d made a mistake, they owned up to it, made an excuse-free apology, and took action.
First, they made a quick statement on Facebook:
Then, they followed up with a full email apology on Monday:
This is an apology. No redirecting, no erasure, no finger-pointing, just an honest apology that owns up to their mistake.
They listened to the negative feedback and made changes. They brought on a Chief Editor with experiences that will help prevent similar incidents happening again in the future.
You can’t guarantee that you’ll never make mistakes, but how you deal with them moving forward is what defines your brand.
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