“What matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you. To hear what you need to make your life more beautiful.” So goes the spot now running for JCPenney, which ends by asking consumers to “come back,” and showing the hashtag #JCPListens.
If you haven’t followed JCPenney’s recent saga, simply put, the retailer lost a third of its customers and $4.3 billion in sales last year after changing its approach to store design, and virtually eliminating discounts and coupons. CEO Ron Johnson was fired, and now the company is trying to regain its footing.
Commercials in which a company apologizes is uncommon but not unprecedented. This is called public relations advertising: commercials that don’t sell the product but instead try to persuade an audience to think better of the firm. BP has done a lot of this, addressing its disastrous Gulf oil spill, with spots that ran soon after the crisis and are now running to convince us that they are sorry for their sins. Dominos went on TV and online in late 2009 to admit to making an inferior product and promising to sell us new and improved pizza.
While PR advertising has been around for a long time, our current age of transparency (mainly brought to you courtesy of social media) combined with a push towards more corporate social responsibility (CSR), has encouraged companies with very public problems to be up-front and apologetic. The challenge to this approach is believability. Does the audience accept these displays of regrets and promises, or is public perception of the company so damaged that no amount of such messaging will change minds?
This is certainly the problem with BP’s slick PR commercials (no bad pun intended). BP’s credibility is badly hurt and its spots are not always well-received. It’s too early to tell how effective JCPenney’s ads will be, but I think it’s smart that they’re doing them. We seem to like when big companies admit and apologize for their mistakes. But how long will it take until we actually forgive them? Your thoughts?