Damage Control: The Art of the Apology Ad
With great power comes great responsibility. This statement has perhaps never rang more true than in regards to the responsibility of businesses to maintain ethical practices. As we reach unanticipated levels of dependency on key companies, the safety of us consumers has in many ways been threatened. When scandals come out, the demands for boycotting a platform or institution come on strong. People delete their accounts or seek out alternatives. Businesses, in response, have emphasized specialized marketing as a tool to transform their weaknesses or pitfalls into a campaign, advertising how they are “better than ever”. After examining three recent and high profile cases, it is clear to see what makes it successful and what does not.
When the news broke about Facebook being riddled with fake bots, predatory forces and clickbait, no one was really that surprised. When it was further uncovered that they tracked and sold data on users as they pleased, no one was really that surprised either. The fact that it was finally being spoken about, however, was. Stock market analysts were wiping the nervous sweat from their brows as Facebook’s stock took big hits. Twitter exploded with outraged users hashtagging and pledging to delete their accounts. The media nearly passed out from glee as they realized the juicy political fodder this provided talk shows and special reports. However, as climactic as this seemed, it was actually very anticlimactic. By flooding feeds on every platform, and even in print, Facebook played the sympathy card hard. The ads that ran on TV and as videos across Instagram and other sites seemed to be less “this was really bad and we take responsibility” and more “Facebook is innocent and was invaded by bad users but we will do you a favor and clean it up”. There was no mention of selling data and using discriminatory tricks to allow businesses to target an audience to a ridiculous level. Ultimately, I have to call this a very saturated but superficial campaign, which matches Facebook’s tone. Furthermore, for all their promises of better sweeps on spam, there has been little heard of their progress and they recently have been recovering in stock.
Uber has over the years been the subject of many late night news reports. Aside from viral and shocking videos of abuses against drivers (which is an issue), Uber has been unable to secure the safety of its passengers. Stories of being robbed, drugged, raped, or murdered has tied Uber to the words “danger” and “risk”. Growing fear and backlash against the rideshare company has been to the benefit of its competition. As a result, the company cleared house as a way to show a “New Era” is on its way. The new CEO has been featured in many of the new ads as a way to humanize and empathize the concerns of communities across the world. What Uber has done especially well for a technology service is immediately roll out useful features that directly address what can be considered on a basic level as “bugs” to the smoothness of our journeys. What it has failed to do, however, is properly heighten and market the way it hires and background checks drivers. This would be the final piece of the puzzle in showing that Uber is both new and improved. As a result, their sincerity is about 85% of the way there.
3. Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo is different from the other two companies discussed here, but the remarkably clever comeback they have plotted warrants attention to them on this topic. Even though they are a brick and mortar institution as a bank, their technology and data is what got them in trouble. By setting little researched goals and high pressures onto the lower managers and employees, it was a recipe for disaster. Loopholes in the system and a lack of verification allowed employees to open several types of accounts for unsuspecting clients who were later billed on them. This nearly brought the entire company down. What they have done since then, however, has the potential to recover their future. Like Uber, they cleared house at certain managerial levels and set themselves on a track to commitment to the community in more ways than one. By abolishing targets to reach altogether, the company is attempting to revise their culture into one of nurturing growth. Understandably, throwing money at a problem is not going to make it go away, but Wells Fargo has both cleverly repositioned their mission and put their money where their mouth is about developing community relationships. What I like most about their campaign is that it very simply does what an apology is supposed to be. They did not cut corners in saying they broke our trust, and then go on to confront and correct the factors that led to that. By using the tagline “Established in 18—. Reestablished in 2018” they acknowledge their long history as well as their adaptability to succeed in the modern age. In conclusion, this is a pretty good example of taking the fall and using it to climb the ladder again.
Supplementary Note: All three companies have disabled comments for these ads on Youtube - this is an interesting choice to block feedback from customers who they claim they want to listen to more.