Local & State Voices

Facebook, Uber and Wells Fargo are sorry. A ranking of the apology commercials

From Facebook's "Here Together" ad, airing nationally.
From Facebook's "Here Together" ad, airing nationally. YouTube

Apologizing isn't easy. You know this. We know this. Washington lives by this. But maybe it can become a thing.

Three major corporations have realized this month that sorry doesn't have to be the hardest word. Facebook, Uber and Wells Fargo have released national television ads that, in their own ways, are mea culpas. Each has a mess on its hands - from fake news at Facebook to fake accounts at Wells Fargo to very real horror stories at Uber. And that's just for starters.

But Americans have an amazing (and sometimes puzzling) capacity to forgive. You just have to ask first. These three did - with artful visuals, musical interludes and varying degrees of contriteness. How'd they do? Our Sorry Rankings:

3. Facebook: "Here Together"

The pitch: Facebook goes fully Old Flame here: "Remember when things were fun and new? We had so much in common. Then things got kind of crazy. Was it me? I don't know. But I know we can be good again." It's a potent mix of nostalgia and second chances — two of the pillars Facebook was built upon.

The apology: The weakest of the three. "But then something happened," the narrator says. "We had to deal with spam, clickbait, fake news, and data misuse. That's a little too "mistakes were made" and not enough "we made mistakes." Then again, that's about as much as Mark Zuckerberg has been able to bring himself to say.

The fix: "From now on Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy." What will that be? How will it be different? We don't know, because that would take acknowledging how things went wrong.

The takeaway: We do remember when things were good — the FB connections, the old/new friends — and the ad is deft at stirring that spirit. But we're arm's length with Facebook now — still friendly, but more wary. No reasons here to be less so.

2. Uber - Moving Forward

The pitch: Uber is much more straightforward: We're here, and we're headed there. New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is your driver. The video begins and ends with the new guy. He offers the obligatory reminder of how good things were ("We changed the way people get around") and the look ahead ("It's time to move in a new direction.") It's all very one-point-to-another. That's not a bad thing.

The apology: Still not direct, but better. "If there are times we fall short," Khosrowshahi says, as if there's any other reason he's talking and we're watching. But OK. It's the next part that's important.

The fix: "You're going to see improvements to our service, like enhanced background checks, 24/7 customer support, better pickups and ride quality for both riders and drivers." And more: "New leadership and a new culture." Strong.

The takeaway: Happy riders. Happy drivers. It's elementary stuff. People don't need a lot of extras with Uber, and the ad appeals to the straightforward simplicity we want. "You've got my word," the new guy says. That's a good start.

1. Wells Fargo - Earning Back Your Trust

The pitch: Best of both worlds. A reflective look back at Wells Fargo's storied past. A fairly precise promise of how the bank can regain its customers' confidence. And, of course, lots of horses.

The apology: "We built on that trust," the narrator says. "Until, we lost it." Bam. Is that so hard, people? You messed up. Say so.

The fix: There's the usual language ("We're holding ourselves accountable") and a nod toward the perception that Wells Fargo has been chasing crisis after crisis ("find and fix issues proactively"). There's also a specific and important fix — "ending product sales goals for branch bankers" — that addresses the biggest of the scandals. Solid.

The takeaway: The "Established 1852. Re-established 2018" finish may be overstating things a bit, but then again, Wells Fargo has had a really rough go of it for a while now. The company needed a reset. Customers do, too. And really, there's nothing like a good apology to start things over.

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