Posts Tagged ‘corporate apology’

Sorry About That

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

The headline on a six-paragraph story in the business pages of The Record caught my attention. “PepsiCo pulls offensive ad,” it said, and I knew there’d probably be a corporate apology someplace in the story.

Then I read the first paragraph and was flabbergasted. “PepsiCo has pulled an online ad for Mountain Dew that was criticized for portraying racial stereotypes and making light of violence against women.”

In a commercial for soda?

Well, the ad depicts a white woman moving around on crutches; “battered,” according to Associated Press. She is supposed to pick her attacker from a lineup. All the men in the lineup are black.

Then the story got really weird. A PepsiCo spokeswoman said the corporation only learned that the ad could be considered offensive by some people when the company was informed so by its consumer relations unit. They needed a customer relations unit to figure out that the ad was racist and misogynistic? Can you think of anyone – Klan members excluded – who would not find this ad offensive and degrading?

PepsiCo conceded that some people found the commercial offensive. Some people? How about a sizeable portion of all those who saw it? In fact, can we agree that about 98 percent would think the ad was garbage, with the missing 2 percent having just landed from Jupiter and unaware that there are certain ways in which we don’t depict our people.

To its credit, PepsiCo pulled the ad quickly. But what is not explained is how such a commercial could have been created and used in the first place. Someone at PepsiCo approved that ad. Someone said, OK, great work, let’s run with it.

An unintentionally witty corporate apology came from J.C. Penney which, after doing business one way for more than a century, changed its outlook to attract a younger, hipper crowd. The younger, hipper people didn’t bite, and the people who had been Penney’s foundation customers for decades found other places to spend their money.

When Penney realized its aisles were emptying, it fired the CEO it had hired a year ago. Then it re-hired the CEO it fired to make way for the newcomer. And it ran an apology advertisement with this immortal line: “Some changes you liked, and some you didn’t. But what matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing, to listen to you.”

J.C. Penney went into business around the turn of the last century. You’d think that after about 111 years it would have figured out that you listen to your customers, that you don’t mess with the customer base because everybody knows that retail stores are not really owned by corporations and boards of directors. They’re owned by the shoppers.

Another example of where-was-the-person-in-charge occurred with an advertisement for Hyundai cars that was designed for use in Great Britain. In it, a creative team went for humor and then decided to couple it with the subject of  suicide. Very stupid move. But where was Hyundai brass?

The ad depicted a man trying to kill himself in his Hyundai but failing because the car’s emission control system worked so effectively, according to a story in Advertising Age.

The thing about many corporate apologies is that they’re produced in a manner that suggests the company doesn’t really want to apologize and is looking for an out. “We understand that some people may have found the [car] video offensive,” Hyundai said. “We’re very sorry if we have offended anyone.” That’s we understand, not we know; some people, not all people; offensive, not outrageous. And so, Hyundai is very sorry “if” its ad offended anyone.

For more on corporate apologies, check the NPR program “Le Show,” which runs on Northeast Public Radio at 1 p.m. on Sundays.