In the past few weeks, three of the top brands in the world have had to launch public apologies tied to misplaced or misguided creative, execution and strategy.  Ford is in trouble for its now infamous sexist Indian ads promoting the Ford Figo, and Hyundai  ran an unbelievable “suicide” ad in the UK touting the virtues of its energy efficient car. JC Penney has been discussed for a totally different reason in previous months. They’ve been accused of abandoning the consumer, their strategy and what really matters to their shoppers – a great buying experience. And now they’re practically begging their customers to come back.

Each controversy came with different reasons, different accusations, and different levels of fall-out, but they all ended with the same result: A public apology via printed word, viral video or TV ad.  The apology bandwagon seems to be on hyper-drive these past few years.  Apple , BP , Carnival Cruises, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, StubHub…the list goes on and on. There is no shortage of mistakes being made. And there is no easier out than to run a 30 second and wash your hands of the mistake.

But in our ever-changing, hyper-connected world, words are just words.

Consumers are smarter than ever, and only the authentic brands, the ones that have stayed the course over time and have timeless values are the ones that have the resilience to bounce back time and time again.

Johnson & Johnson’s new brand campaign celebrating “love”  is a perfect example of execution and humble contrition in an imperfect situation. Both the pharmaceutical and consumer products sides of the brand’s business have been plagued recently by a series of recalls and lawsuits, though their reputation seems to be in recovery mode – recent report have their stock price up by 22 percent.

In launching the new campaign, VP of Global Corporate Affairs Michael Sneed commented, “One of the things that we wanted to be sure to do is move to really get past some of the challenges we’ve had as a business,” he said. “We’ve made great strides in that, and we want to make sure we have a full conversation about who J&J is. We’re not perfect, but we want people to understand that when we do make mistakes, we own up to those mistakes and we want people to understand the values that are behind J&J.”

Brands become successful as a result of their deeds, not their words. I’m sure that Hyundai and Ford are ruing the day some rogue agency or internal marketing zealot made the choices they did. And regarding JC Penney, the bottom line is that no one cares.  And they won’t care until the brand rebuilds itself so that it’s relevant to a consumer segment that is under-served and ripe for a different type of buying experience. A commercial that tells me they are going to change does nothing more than remind me of how irrelevant they are today, and how far they need to go to build their brand back to being one that truly inspires and compels.

This post originally appeared on the Forbes CMO Network on Scott Davis’s blog, The Shift. To read related thinking from Scott on Forbes, follow his blog here. 


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