Monday, March 29, 2010

Do Corporate Apologies Work Online?

With recalls announced fairly regularly these days, New York Times' Virginia Heffernan takes a worthwhile look at "the Web sites of beleaguered companies."
A company shows anxiety on its face — that is, on its Web site, which has become the face of the modern corporation. Visit sites for recently troubled or confused enterprises, including Maclaren, Toyota, Playtex, Tylenol and, yes, John Edwards, and you’ll find a range of digital ways of dealing with distress.
According to Heffernan, many companies do a poor job apologizing for recalls (and other issues) on their websites. (Our style guide prefers website as one word, without an initial cap -- despite the Times' stodgy style.)

Based on her examples, I'd have to agree that they could do a better job. At first, I thought one issue could be guidance from their attorneys who may tend to advise their clients to be very careful in admitting responsibility for any problems -- since, presumably, that written admission might be used in trial against the company.

Yet I think Toyota has done a decent job in its ad campaign. In thinking it over, though, I realized that the ad campaign says "We haven't been living up to the standards you've come to expect from Toyota."

Which is not really an apology.

Yet I think it works as a commercial.

But not on a website.

Which goes to show that companies need to remember that each medium is different. And it's not enough to take the same approach from one (30-second spots) and translate it exactly on a website.

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