Advertising is the most visible form of corporate apology. Some companies choose to look ahead and reframe their crisis as an opportunity for growth and innovation. Others reflect on the past to light the path for the future. The message is not only directed to the general public, it is intended to reach employees, shareholders, distributors, agents, and customers. We take a look at four companies that chose to create TV commercials to highlight their history in an effort to repair reputation.
Campaign: Citi 200
Stella’s Take: In the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis, Citi needed to regain public trust. The Citi 200 commercial is not an apology but more of a declaration that its perseverance is the cornerstone of its longevity. From communications to transportation, Citi reminds us the bank overcame troubled times and financed many monumental projects. Without context of Citi’s role in the 2008 subprime home mortgage crisis, the commercial shows Citi’s interest to finance more American dreams; the entrepreneurial kind.
Zack’s Take: After the financial crisis, Citi sought to re-establish why they are still relevant in the contemporary economy. By looking back on 200 years of business successes, it contextualizes the recent failure as one point on a long timeline. Compared to two centuries’ worth of innovation, the crisis becomes a small hurdle to overcome. Citi cites huge innovations and accomplishments in human history that have fundamentally changed how our world works, and suggests that, given their pedigree, there is no reason why it should not continue. The ad then brings that legacy into the present moment by appealing to the viewer by suggesting that he could be part of the next great step in human progress.
Agency: BBDO Worldwide
Campaign: Founded on Fresh
Stella’s Take: Subway launched an advertising campaign celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2015. The campaign focused on its company mission of made-to-order sandwiches using fresh ingredients. Following the July 2015 dissolution of Subway’s relationship with its spokesperson, the company sought to renew faith in its brand. Rather than compete on value and Subway focused on product. Its new slogan, “Founded on Fresh” redirects our attention back to why the company is the world’s #1 fast food chain; it is the predictability and consistency of its product.
Zack’s Take: In the wake of their former spokesman’s legal troubles, Subway needed to distance themselves from their prior campaigns as much as possible. They abandoned the health-conscious tack they’d used with Jared, instead focusing on their brand’s heritage of using fresh ingredients. By incorporating their history, they reaffirm their identity as a response to industrialized and processed food, both in the home and out in restaurants. Through invoking images of competitors’ gimmicks, i.e. roller skates and mascots, they place the emphasis squarely on their product, and draw attention away from the scandal.
Client: Lloyds Bank
Campaign: By your side for 250 Years
Stella’s Take: Lloyds Bank’s iconic black horse mascot has been revived a few times to win back business. This time was no different. Celebrating 250 years of being in business is already self-serving. The mascot and metaphor “By your side…” coupled with moments of crisis and celebration are indeed sentimental. Yet, there was still something missing. Authenticity.
Zack’s Take: After the Libor scandal, Lloyds faced a similar situation as Citi did. On the surface, their campaigns are very similar: look back at our storied past and understand everything that this company has done. However, the Lloyds ad fails to arouse the same sense of accomplishment that Citi does. The Lloyds spot is a highly emotional appeal, bordering on emotionally exploitative, that rather than suggest that they’ve been a successful business, relies solely on the fact that they’ve existed for so long. It proclaims “we are an institution”. Without any real context of what Lloyds has done throughout that history, the viewer is left with a mere reminder of the brand for a company that failed.
Client: General Mills
Campaign: 150 years
Stella’s Take: General Mills is one of America’s most beloved consumer goods companies. In its portfolio of 14 product categories, many Americans were raised eating a variety of General Mills’ products. The 2015 voluntary recall of 1.8M boxes of Cheerios and recall of 60,000 bags of Cascadian Farm Cut Green Beans shows the company’s proactive approach to crisis management. Its recent announcement to remove artificial dyes from its colored cereals is part of its strategy to rebrand while reinforcing its mission, “Making food people love”. The 150th Anniversary video is reminiscent of a sports highlights reel.
Zack’s Take: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this ad from General Mills would be a novel. Unfortunately for General Mills, even a “novel” like Twilight has a better sense of narrative. This ad blasts the viewer with image after image of General Mills products in a weak attempt to cash in on the viewer’s recognition of a product he’s enjoyed in the past. It’s not unreasonable, given the wide reach of General Mills’ products, but like the Lloyds ad, it relies solely on its brand recognition. Without any narrative, the ad becomes a poor attempt to jam as many recognizable brands as possible into 60 seconds.
Crisis management is typically reactive rather than proactive. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) counts on Chief Communications Officer (CCO), Chief Digital Officer (CDO), and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to have resources readily accessible to respond to an unexpected event. Corporate history is not just for crisis incidents. Well produced, a corporate history commercial can Corporate history is a high value asset for longterm internal and external communications. It is not just the story of a company, but also its founders, investors, employees, and customers. Using corporate history to regain trust should be a balanced presentation of overcoming challenges and offering a perspective of its future.