Our Golden Age of Corporate Apologies
Some of the most popular and successful companies in America — Wells Fargo, Facebook, Uber — have suffered a series of highly unfortunate blemishes on their otherwise pristine public images. They did very naughty things. To their customers. Stole from them. Lied to them. Treated every person like a valuable revenue stream instead of an invaluable human being.
Sure, that’s what all corporations do, you might argue. But really smart ones, the really good ones, don’t get caught in public relations disasters. They’re much better at hiding their crimes, whether dodging taxes (Apple, Boeing, Google) or abusing the work force (Amazon, Wal-Mart). They do things the right way.
The ones that don’t, the ones whose misdeeds are exposed, have three strategic choices:
- Change the company’s name [Time Warner; Philip Morris Tobacco]
- Do nothing and wait for the ruckus to die down while maintaining acceptable earnings results. [Exxon; Monsanto; Dow]
- Apologize profusely in the form of a marketing campaign that will maintain acceptable earnings during “this challenging time. [Wells Fargo, Uber, Facebook]
Strategy #3, the focus-group tested advertising campaign masquerading as an apology, is presently in vogue. You could say we’re living in a golden age of corporate apologies. How comforting it is to be reminded (several times a day, in every medium known) that Facebook acknowledges “bad things happened.” How reassuring to know that the new CEO of Uber is a good listener on a crusade to “change the culture” of his company from rapey to something better. And for those who like to root for a scrappy little underdogs reincarnating themselves as Champions of Reliability, how exhilarating to learn that Wells Fargo was established in 1852 but, thanks again to good listening, has been re-established in 2018. They’re back — and less criminal than ever!
One way you know these apologies are sincere and not merely some public relations professional’s “putting out the fire” technique is that all the advertisements feature voice actors who capably communicate how very sorry the corporation is for its misdeeds and how very certain they are that they’re going to do better henceforth. Who said thespians were of no real use to society (other than as clowns and jesters)?
The downside: So effective are the mea culpas that many aggrieved customers who can’t quite make themselves be former customers start wanting apologies from all their corporate overlords. Shouldn’t all the banks be offering America their heartfelt apologies for what they did to create global economic calamity? Shouldn’t every tech company apologize for disrespecting our privacy? The entire tobacco industry? Both political parties/corporations.
To save time (and to maximize profits), we propose one enormous blanket apology issued by the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of its membership. And by enormous, we mean a “roadblock” ad buy across all networks and streams — easily a $5 billion campaign, but deeply discounted by media corporations as their contribution to the cause. A few times a day, for two weeks, at algorithmically derived times, anyone watching anything anywhere will be told:
“Our fellow Americans, we, the corporations of America, would like to apologize to you in advance for everything we do on a regular, daily, hourly basis. We understand the harm we cause, and we’re sincerely sorry for that. We ask for your forgiveness, and for your understanding. When the only thing that really matters in the corporate world is profit and growth, we do what we must. Thank you. Now please return to acquiring and consuming our products.”