Among Recent Apology Ads, Wells Fargo Wins with Accountability

By Kevin Sullivan and Abigail Dellapina

Recently, Facebook, Uber and Wells Fargo have each launched apology ad campaigns in order to address scandals the respective companies faced. A massive data breach and the overload of “fake news” hindered trust between Facebook and its users. Uber faced management scandals and sexual harassment claims that drove many customers to switch to its competitors. Last year Wells Fargo was sanctioned by federal regulators for creating millions of fake customer accounts and in April was fined $1 billion over mortgage and auto loan violations that resulted in some customers paying additional fees.

Millions of dollars have been spent on these campaigns, executed with print, digital, outdoor and television ads. The TV ads, including 60-second versions, have aired during expensive and highly viewed programs, such as “The Voice” and the NBA Playoffs.  Each company took a distinctly different approach in their attempts to win back the trust of their customers.   

The Wells Fargo spot: “Earning Back Your Trust.”  

The Approach:  With soft music playing over visuals of the old west, the spot establishes that generations ago Wells Fargo was built on trust.  “We always found the way,” the voiceover says.  “Until we lost it.”  The music stops and for a second, the screen goes to black.  The music returns with a driving beat and we’re told against visuals of smiling customers and energetic employees that “earning back your trust is our greatest priority.” 

Accountability Meter:  WF scores high on the accountability meter.  Right before the video cuts to black, we see a computer screen that shows an online headline, “What’s Happening at Wells Fargo?” That transparency is effective, but what is most effective is how the spot gives at least one specific example of what WF is doing to fix its problems: “Ending product sales goals for branch bankers” – the issue that drove the creation of fake accounts – while reinforcing the voiceover with a visual of a corresponding news headline on a tablet. 

What Works Best: In addition to being specific about how the company will address the scandal, the spot uses visuals (a young couple being approved for a mortgage) and music to forge an emotional connection and make the words more powerful. The tagline “Established 1852. Re-established 2018” is memorable and strikes the accountability chord as the spots final message.

The Uber spot: “Moving Forward.”

The Approach:  The Uber spot is all about the future.  New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi talks directly to the camera and describes Uber’s “next chapter” and the emphasis the company is going to be placing on listening to its customers and making the passengers their priority. “It’s time to move in a new direction,” he says before promising better service and ride quality.

What Works Best:  By introducing us to the new CEO, the apology feels like a personal appeal – and since he’s new, we can’t blame him for the old problems.  It’s all about what he’s going to do and establishing his accountability for the fix.  By having Khosrowshahi use the word “you” five times, he is individualizing the apology as if he is speaking with a single person and he wants that person to feel that he or she is empowered to help impact Uber’s business culture. 

Accountability Meter:  Uber has decided here to make no attempt to take responsibility for its past missteps – just for the future fix.  The emphasis is on Khosrowshahi and how he excited he is to “write Uber’s next chapter with you.” He tells us one of Uber’s core values “is to always do the right thing.”  He promises IF the company falls short, to be open, to take responsibility and to fix it. Humility matters in public apologies and Khosrowshahi saying “my” employees made me cringe. “Our” would have been a better call for this script.

The Facebook spot: “Here Together”

The Approach:  Facebook, in its biggest ad campaign to date, takes the simplest approach of the three apology ads.  Over soft, mildly upbeat music, the voiceover reminds us why we used to love Facebook…how it brought us all together…and how the company is committed to restoring that feeling – without taking responsibility for the missteps that derailed the brand.

What Works Best:  The visuals are compelling and fun.  We see regular people’s Facebook pages and the videos they share, comments they write, emojis they choose and friends they add. It shows people blowing out birthday candles, an infant’s first steps and even a changed relationship status. The viewer feels connected to the people in this commercial because it is so relatable.  

Accountability Meter:  Facebook scores low on accountability.  In the spot, Facebook curiously refers to its mistakes in passive voice, as if it were the victim: “But then something happened.  We had to deal with spam, clickbait, fake news and data misuse.” While its words about the fix are strong: “From now on Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy,” the lack of specificity and overall accountability undermine what could have been a very effective ad.