Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (In Advertising)
Over the past few months we’ve seen some big name brands like Facebook, Uber and Wells Fargo issue full blown mea culpas during Congressional testimonies, employee town hall meetings, and even in paid media campaigns. Generally speaking things have to be really bad to pay for a campaign just to say you’re sorry. But if done correctly “we’re sorry” creative can serve as a brand reset, allowing the guilty company to move past the controversy at hand.
Based on the latest rash of apology campaigns AdWeek decided to recount the five most important mea culpa campaigns of all time. A couple of these like the New Coke disaster and JC Penney’s no-more-coupons fiasco were self-inflicted wounds that needed to be walked back. A few were freakish accidents like BP’s Deep Water Horizon oil spill and Samsung’s self-emulating Galaxy phones. In all four of these cases the companies were slow to react at first, probably underestimating the scope of the problem at hand. Only after the damage was done did they issue full-throated public apologies.
Perhaps the most important PR apology in marketing history came from Johnson & Johnson in 1982. After seven people died in Chicago from what was later determined to be cyanide-laced Tylenol (btw, the killer still hasn’t been caught), J&J did something amazing. Instead of playing the victim brand, which they easily could have done, they ran a :60 TV ad that took full responsibility for the poisonings which someone else committed, asked people to throw away any existing Tylenol, and hastily rushed production of tamper-resistant packaging which became the standard in pharma ever since. Out of tragedy this response is generally considered to be the gold standard of apology campaigns, which all brand should keep in mind if they happen across future misfortunes.