We’re sorry we’re sorry

By David Pollack Today we have an example of how not to write an apology – from a company whose advertising and marketing writing is usually great.

I'll concede that, being the world’s largest company (by market capitalisation), Apple clearly feels secure enough to actually make an apology. Many other companies, one senses, still believe apologising is a demonstration of weakness. Still, this mealy mouthed not-quite mea culpa falls short of Apple’s usual writing standards:

To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

Tim Cook
Apple’s CEO

OK, there’s an apology in there somewhere. But it’s hidden among a pile of yawn-inducing boasting. And, why refer to the reader as “our customers” and not simply “you”. The latter blunder is nothing more sinister than an oversight, but the former is a willful attempt to hide the necessary apology in an enormous dissembling excuse.

Why didn’t they start it like this:

We are extremely sorry for the frustration our unreliable Maps application has caused you. We are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

Instead, the opening sentence is a master-class in corporate cliché.

Here’s an example of how to do it from one of our favourite writers, Warren Buffett (so favourite, in fact, he inspired the name of our company):

And now a painful confession: Last year your chairman closed the book on a very expensive business fiasco entirely of his own making.

For many years I had struggled to think of side products that we could offer our millions of loyal GEICO customers. Unfortunately, I finally succeeded, coming up with a brilliant insight that we should market our own credit card. I reasoned that GEICO policyholders were likely to be good credit risks and, assuming we offered an attractive card, would likely favor us with their business. We got business all right—but of the wrong type.

Our pre-tax losses from credit-card operations came to about $6.3 million before I finally woke up. We then sold our $98 million portfolio of troubled receivables for 55¢ on the dollar, losing an additional $44 million.

GEICO’s managers, it should be emphasized, were never enthusiastic about my idea. They warned me that instead of getting the cream of GEICO’s customers we would get the - - - - -well, let’s call it the non-cream. I subtly indicated that I was older and wiser.

I was just older.

Interestingly, Buffett doesn’t actually at any point say he’s sorry. But because he doesn’t try and hide his confession in a heap of boastful corporatese his contrition comes across as sincere.