The Leaders Notebook

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If You Are Going to Apologize- Apologize

February 7th, 2011 · No Comments · Playing a Bigger Game, Sliding Down the Razor Blade of Life, Uncategorized

Another Super Bowl has passed and once again it seems that there is more commentary and furor on line over the commercials than what was actually a pretty good football game.  By now we have come to expect the exploitation of women from Go Daddy (although they may have reached a new low this year).  And I thought that the ads for Cheetohs were a shameless attempt to get attention at any cost.  But the one that struck me as odd at the time- and has seen the most Monday morning controversy- was the ad for Groupon.  Have a look here if you missed it.

The set up simply did not work.  So, we now have a laboratory to see how to deal with a very bad and very public decision.  Andrew Mason is admittedly not your usual CEO.  He may not own a suit and tie and the roots of his company are in social action.  Given the amount of money that they raise for charitable and social action causes through their business model, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt.  And of course with no inside track I, like everyone else who was not part of the project, can only guess at what went wrong.  Except of course for what has happened since- so let’s work with that.

Mason put up a blog post to try to explain away why they ran an ad that angered the very public they depend on to support their business as well as their charitable causes.  Given his sincerity and the slack he likely gets for not being a greedy win-at-all- costs CEO, it will probably be fine.   Early responses on his blog are mostly balanced to favorable, if a little lukewarm.  Still, I think he missed an opportunity.

The issue over the ad was not rational- it was emotional.  Yet Mason spends paragraphs making a rational case for why they did what they did and why they thought it would work.  He goes on to explain how partners in their giving enterprises agreed and supported them.  But the upset was just that- an emotional response.  After watching the commercial a few times online, it gets easier to make the logical connections- but in the moment of truth, when the spot aired- the response was emotional.  Anyone who has ever been in a spat with a spouse or friend knows exactly what the impact of a logical argument is when anger is high.  The upset only escalates.  What would have been different if Mason had answered anger with actual contrition first?  If you are going to apologize, do it directly and without watering it down with logic.  Then if you want to make a rational argument- and given their dedication to charitable giving it seems in order to me-  go for it.  Mason never actually apologizes- which leaves the upset unacknowledged.

For more on the power of a proper apology, have a look at this post from May of 2009.

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