Is it too late now to say sorry: A guide to bad apologies in 3 acts



So the world basically went savage this past week after a string of public relations faux pas triggered the Internet.

First it was the now-infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial, which drew backlash for its insensitive co-opting of the Black Lives Matter movement in America and other protests around the world.

Then it was the not-so-famous Faves Asia video, which portrayed social media influencers as a crass, shallow, materialistic group of people who live for the next manicure and flowers from strangers.

And as if we hadn’t already lost all hope in humanity, United Airlines - the same airline that stopped two women from boarding because of their leggings - sparked global outrage for violently dragging a passenger out of the plane.

In each case, their apologies didn’t make things better. What seemed like a perfectly decent thing to do backfired spectacularly when their statements turned out to be even more objectionable.

Consider this a step-by-step tutorial on how not to apologise the next time you mess up.

1. Apologise to the Wrong Person

Pepsi’s first knee-jerk reaction to the public roast was to defend its ad, proving that it is possible to be more tone-deaf than socialite-soprano Florence Foster Jenkins.

The company insisted that the video was a “global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.” It also told Teen Vogue just hours after the commercial’s release that the ad showcases a “moment of unity”, and explores what it means to “live life unbounded, unfiltered and uninhibited.”

But netizens were quick to slam Pepsi’s misjudgement and call for a boycott.

So Pepsi pulled the ad and apologised, but that didn’t quell the anger.

The problem was, even though they offended thousands of protesters, the only person they apologised to was Kendall Jenner. As many pointed out, by agreeing to front the ad, the reality TV and fashion starlet was more complicit than innocent.

2. Suspend Reality

What ticked most people off about the Faves Asia saga was the shallow materialism and utter lack of self-awareness demonstrated by the self-declared “micro-influencers”.

Take this gem of a line from their official Facebook statement on the matter: “The whole video was scripted, everyone were (sic) just acting their role out and none of them are materialistic in real life.”

Okay. Never mind the fact that this video which got them into hot soup promoted an lavish lifestyle filled with luxury cars, manicures and pedicures, degustation sessions and sweaty dance parties - and sold it as a life aspiration.

Many were quick to call them out.

For a group that claims to excel and shine in social media, their statement was also peppered with platitudes and grammatical errors.

“Micro-influencers are not wannabes, they’re sincere people who wants (sic) to grow,” read one line.

Another line went: “We should not put down the hopes of our friends who wants (sic) to grow and shine on instagram.”

At times we even wondered if the post was actually written in English, thanks to sentences like this: “Micro-Influencers Marketing is indeed coming of age where the advertisement blindness is much lower, a more diverse and genuine reach.”

It also didn’t help when two of them, Hilda Tan and Kimberley Yong, tried to apprise the world of their influencer-related woes via Popspoken, but ended up digging a deeper hole for themselves.

“The struggle in this industry is real,” Yong wrote, because, well, all the freebies neither pay for her bills nor support her family. Who would’ve thought?

Tan went as far as to compare influencers to doctors and teachers.

“The remuneration we receive is our source of income and for some people, it’s their bread and butter which is essentially similar to doctors and teachers who are supposed to have passion for what they do.”

She went on to explain the kind of backbreaking work that goes into what she terms “content creation”.

We have to ensure that our pictures taken are good enough for posting, and many times we can take up to 100 pictures just to get that perfect one.”

She added: “I have seen fellow micro-influencers rushing through dinner just to get their 'live posting' content up on time.”

That’s right folks, the struggle is real.

3. Be Sorry, Not Sorry

Another great way to sabotage your apology is to, well, not apologise at all.

That’s precisely what United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz did when he wrote in a letter to employees that the passenger was “disruptive and belligerent” and had “defied” security officers and “compounded” the situation.

“When we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions,” Munoz wrote, seemingly assigning the blame to the victim.

This was despite the Chicago Department of Aviation stating that one of the officers did not follow protocol and had been “placed on leave pending a review for actions not condoned by the department”.

When Munoz did apologise, it wasn’t to Dr David Dao, the passenger-protagonist who was left with a bruised and bloodied face.

Instead, he said sorry for “having to re-accommodate these customers”.

Needless to say, the backlash was as brutal as the bashing Dr Dao received.

A day later, however, Munoz sang a different tune: “I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologise to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.”

He added: “I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.”

Too late. As of yesterday, United Airlines stocks have substantially nosedived, and outraged netizens, including many in China, are calling for a boycott of the American airline.

United's woes did have an upside though. It helped people forget about Pepsi and Faves Asia. So take heart if you do make a mess of an apology next time, you can always recover. You just have to wait for somebody make a bigger mess.