A recent article in PR Daily by Michael Sebastian asking if companies are apologizing too much caught my eye. The opening paragraph detailed a McDonald’s ad that was pulled because the “company playfully suggested that petting a pit bull is risky behavior.” A pit bull group complained and faster than a speeding bullet, the chain issued an apology about being insensitive to pit bulls.
It got me thinking about how many apologies I have written for my crisis clients over the years. Some were needed. Most were not. However, the tempo of apologies flowing through television, print, online and social media channels has tripled and maybe even quadrupled in the past five years. What’s going on? And is it good for brands?
Based on my personal experience, apologies are in order when you kill someone by accident, break your significant other’s heart or forget to feed your dog. If your thing is sarcasm, comedy, shock jocks, running for office or other areas where saying funny or rude things are the name of the game, no apologies necessary.
Remember when the duo of John & Ken on radio’s KFI apologized for calling Whitney Houston a “crack ho?” Yesterday we learned she died because she drowned after using cocaine. OK it wasn’t exactly crack, but I have heard a number of hip hop songs using the word “Ho” more times than I can count. No one apologizes after the songs are aired. The radio talk show hosts did not need to apologize as this is their brand, and the station is number one in LA. It really did not seem sincere knowing how they have talked for years, did it? But the advertisers and other big guns must have pressured them into the apology.
According to today’s media reports, we can’t have best friends, we can’t hug each other in middle school and we can’t stick to our guns even if others don’t like what we say, so in my book PC has gone too far, and first amendment rights are in deep trouble.
Certainly in a crisis when a client does something incredibly stupid or deadly, an apology – sincere of course – is in order. But the onslaught of too many apologies dilutes the effect of real ones when they are truly needed.