Cost-per-view Web content is such uncharted (or at least yet to be fully explored) territory.Of all the different genres of online videos that will be produced in the coming year, the ones I’m most looking forward to are the “We’re Sorry” spots, also known as the best disaster movies to be seen outside of a multiplex.
In 2010, BP CEO Tony Hayward kicked off the mea culpa viral video trend with his classy “We are deeply sorry” entry that made a splash on YouTube (and got spectacularly lampooned by South Park). It was gorgeously shot, boasted sun-kissed lighting and was edited like it was hoping for an Oscar berth.
It was a PSA with pizzazz, for sure – but it didn’t ameliorate the situation or evangelize naysayers so much as draw negative attention to how slick it was—and slickness is the last thing you want to evoke when dealing with a disastrous oil spill.
Next up was 2011’s breakout brand debacle: Blackberry outages. Research In Motion co-founder Mike Lazaridis decided to pare down his company’s “We’re sorry” video by standing against a simple backdrop and donning a modest polo shirt with the Blackberry logo placed strategically. It was, in effect, a less “commercial” commercial. Did it work? No it didn’t.
What we learned here was that a mea culpa does a serviceable job of explaining malfunctioning products and network breakdowns, but does a less than adequate job of excusing them. And an explanation is no excuse.
I refer to these video spots as advertisements because, while they don’t exactly plug a product or service for its goodness, they defend its badness in hopes of retaining current—and converting future—clientele. It’s worth the time, money and effort to drive traffic to these videos, but only if they’re done right. The brain’s got to be in the right place as much as the heart.
In its most recent formats, the “We’re sorry” promo seems less about taking responsibility for transgressions and more about redirecting the public’s attention from them. In the current market, press releases supplement earnings restatements to minimize negative reactions and distract consumers from the reasons for restatement. That being said, in the face of other sorts of corporate missteps, CEO mea culpa videos could be huge this year. Bigger than 3D, even.
Here are a few tips if you are a CEO poised to make a public apology that will keep both your board and your customers happy.
- Productions value: Less is more. If it looks like you spent more to produce your mea culpa video than to fix the problem (or worse, to keep the problem from occurring in the first place), you’ve got a box office bomb on your hands. Keep it simple. Elegant camera angles and editing can get too histrionic. Also, dress to address, not to impress.
- There’s a flip side to that, however. If you underwhelm, underdress and underperform, it looks like you run a house of cards.
- On-location video shoots are only necessary if it looks like your company’s disaster doesn’t conveniently coincide with your vacation. Better have a good explanation for that tan!
- Body language is key. If you don’t have a little levity, it looks like you are trying to keep the Titanic afloat just long enough to pocket some of the silverware before you sink. Smile, you’re on can-do camera!
- But don’t smile too much. This is where “business casual” can do some damage. Try to avoid too many colloquialisms and “aw shucks” verbiage. If you tell your constituents and consumer base that you “messed up” (Netflix style), you may run the risk of appearing flippant. Sounding like you’re one of the masses really doesn’t square because, well, you’re aren’t.
- When you distribute your video online, be sure that it has a clear message – don’t just amplify the crisis or gloss over it. It’s your moment to mollify and comfort, not frighten and seduce.
- Give facts and numbers, real evidence there’s a solution in progress. At this point in time, consumers are likely to doubt the legitimacy of people and products before they trust them, and audiences assume they’re being fed brand propaganda that’s dressed in quality content’s clothing.
So, armchair directors, what would your “We’re sorry” video spot look and sound like? Lights. Camera. (Re)action!