Which company messed up its newspaper apology letter? Samsung or Wells Fargo?

Which company messed up its newspaper apology letter? Samsung or Wells Fargo?

When two of the world’s biggest companies make big mistakes, how do they say they’re sorry?

By taking out big newspaper ads, of course.

But even though both Samsung and Wells Fargo chose the same destination, they arrived via two very different routes. Did they both accomplish their mission? Let’s take a closer look.

Both companies ran full-page apology ads in major newspapers across the country. The Samsung ad appeared on November 7th.  The Wells Fargo ad dates back to early September.

Samsung opens with this greeting:

“To our valued customers,”

While Wells Fargo goes with:

“Moving forward to make things right”

And there’s another version that says:

“To Wells Fargo customers: Our commitment to you”

In just four words, Samsung comes off sounding humble and apologetic. Wells Fargo sounds cold and ready to move on.

After the greeting, Samsung falls on the sword:

At Samsung, we innovate to deliver breakthrough technologies that enrich people’s lives. An important tenet of our mission is to offer best-in-class safety and quality. Recently, we fell short on this promise.

For this we are truly sorry.

Wells Fargo doesn’t.

“Recently, we reached settlements with… over allegations that some of our retail customers received products and services they did not want.”

“Allegations” implies that you doubt it’s true, but we all know it’s true.

The Wells Fargo ad continues. . .

“We truly regret and take full responsibility for any such instances and have refunded those customers who incurred fees. We have also made many improvements to make certain our ongoing focus is on helping you succeed financially.”

That’s pretty close to an apology and yet it doesn’t quite make it to the finish line. I suspect the lack of explicit “sorryness” is a legal issue. By saying, ‘hey there were some bad people, we found them out and now we’re moving on’, it seems like the company as a whole isn’t really responsible for what happened.

Then there’s Samsung, going all in by the end of the ad:

“Most importantly, safety remains our top priority. We will listen to you, learn from this and act in a way that allows us to earn back your trust. On behalf of our 12,000 employees across the country, we are grateful for your ongoing support and again, we are truly sorry.”

The most telling bit might be the very last line of each ad. Samsung’s letter is signed by their CEO. Wells Fargo’s letter isn’t signed by anyone. Again, that makes it seem as if the CEO of Wells Fargo is sidestepping the blame.

What’s important here is not what the ads actually say, but how they are perceived. Both acknowledge that mistakes were made and both promise to be more vigilant in the future. But side by side, Samsung’s ad sounds more like a genuine apology where Wells Fargo sounds like legal doubletalk.

Here’s what Andy Beal has to say in his book Repped. It’s under the heading of “Sincerity”.

Most online reputation attacks happen because at some point you not only let a stakeholder down, but you didn’t apologize for doing so. If you’re going to resolve this attack quickly, then you had better apologize quickly. Not one of those “we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused” non-apologies, but a sincere, heartfelt apology. . . . Saying I’m sorry has repaired many damaged reputations.