When a company faces a serious scandal, brands, in addition to hiring a good public relations firm, often launch an apology ad campaign. Depending on how this goes, it could really make or break a brand’s reputation. Some campaigns are successful; they tend to get right to the point and show the company taking responsibility for its mistakes. Other brands don’t do such a good job, and their ads are met with even more criticism, simply adding more fuel to the fire. Here are some of the most recent examples of apology ads for large companies, both good and bad.
1.) Facebook’s “Here Together”: When Facebook’s most recent scandal broke (the one where they allowed the private data of millions of users to be harvested by data analytics company Cambridge-Analytica), major steps needed to be taken to repair the broken trust of Facebook’s users. Facebook released their apology ad, which encouraged users to get back to what Facebook was made for: connecting with friends and family in a new way. The ad sort of apologizes, stating that “something happened” and that “we had to deal with spam, clickbait, fake news, and data misuse”. The ad ultimately performed badly and viewers criticized Facebook for circumventing the real problem instead of taking responsibility for their own mistakes. In July of 2018, three months after the ad aired and soon after CFO David Wehner announced that the slowing revenue-growth was going to continue, Facebook experienced the largest one-day drop in the history of the U.S. stock market: 19 percent, or a $120 billion loss in market value, according to The Verge.
2.) Uber’s “Moving Forward”: Following a series of scandals that eventually lead to CEO Travis Kalanick stepping down, Uber released an apology ad featuring replacement CEO Dara Khosrowshahi as he addressed viewers directly. Khosrowshahi says in the 60-second commercial that he is excited for Uber’s future and that if things ever go badly, Uber commits to being open, taking responsibility for problems, and fixing them. In the shorter commercial, Khosrowshahi shares some of his father’s wisdom and insists that under his leadership, Uber will be a much better company. These ads were more effective than some other apology ads, as the company owned up to what went wrong and vowed to fix the issues at hand. People, especially younger Uber users, responded to the transparency well.
3.) Wells Fargo’s “Re-Established”: This ad campaign, launched in May of 2018, was intended to reassure customers of the company’s trustworthiness after a scandal involving the creation of fake accounts in users’ names to meet sales goals. The first ad of the campaign, titled “Trust”, claims that Wells Fargo “always found the way—until we lost it”, and promises to fix what went wrong, make things right, and do away with sales goals completely to focus on the customer. Consumers complained that the ad seemed insincere and empty, saying they’d have liked to see Tim Sloan, CEO at the time, make an appearance (a lá Uber). The ads weren’t terribly effective, and Sloan ended up stepping down on March 28th to allow a CEO who wasn’t tainted by the scandal help the company grow. Sometimes, apology ads just aren’t enough, and in this case, they may have have been a huge waste of money. (From an anonymous, confidential source, we discovered that Wells Fargo has spent upwards of a few hundred million dollars on this three-part campaign and brand update, which was largely a failure.)
4.) Domino’s’ “Turnaround”: People have thought the worst of Domino’s pizza, and in 2009, Domino’s let us know that they were in on it too. They began rebranding with their “Turnaround” ad campaign and openly admitted to knowing that their products were pretty much terrible. (In the early 2000s, they had earned the reputation of being the worst pizza chain.) They revealed the photography tricks used in normal commercials, read some reviews of their pizza, and vowed to create a better product. This extreme transparency and actual dedication to improving their product allowed them to actually grow in popularity and create better customer loyalty.
Creating ads on the wake of crisis is a delicate business and must be coupled with careful, strategic public relations counsel. Some brands do an excellent job – others just waste hundreds of millions of dollars.
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