Mea Culpa

A few years ago, Crispin Porter Bogusky won the Domino’s Pizza business. It could only mean one of two things. Either the agency had lost its mind, or they knew that this client, known for terrible advertising up until that point, wanted to change. Turns out the latter was true, and shortly thereafter, a famous campaign was launched.

Domino’s lack of a quality product had finally caught up to them, and sales were suffering. They could have just quietly started changing up the product and improving it, but they brilliantly decided to come clean, very publicly – paraphrased: “We know you think our product is bad. You’re right, it is. So we changed it. Give us another try?” The amount of press they received from that approach alone was unprecedented, but the increase in sales was even more impressive. They used weakness to their advantage. In retrospect, it seems like the obvious move, as is often the case with hindsight. But in practice, it had to have been a really, really hard decision – a your-career-is-on-the-line-if-this-fails kind of a hard decision. And yet they made it anyway.

We’re all taught from the earliest of ages (if we have even moderately responsible parents), before we quite understand the difference between right and wrong, that saying we’re sorry is important. Why, then, did Domino’s’ approach have such an impact? Because despite what we know to be true, human beings have a really hard time admitting failure. So when someone (or some company) does, it gets noticed. Think you’ll lose someone’s respect if you say you’ve done something wrong? Quite the opposite, actually… but only if you’re determined to right the wrong. Nothing worse than an empty apology – like the one from the 9-year-old kid who broke his little sister’s lego castle – “Sooooooo-rryyyy.” Yeah, right.

Being an underdog can play games with your mind, whether it’s on the field, in business, in government. It can push you to second-guess decisions, resulting in worse or less impactful ones. It can push you to becoming defensive, which I personally believe is one of the least attractive traits someone can have. Yet like it or not, we’ve all been there. But the unique benefit of being an underdog is that you have people rooting for you. We love to see the underdog prevail. I don’t give a shit about the Cubs and yet I stayed up to watch and then cried when they won the World Series. And… the health coach in me would cheer if Domino’s went out of business because it’s fast foods like them who are destroying our kids’ chances for healthy futures, and yet I applaud their marketing approach and respect the success they reaped as a result – in fact, I dedicated a whole blog post to it… seven years after the fact!

Letting yourself be vulnerable is ironically a show of strength. I think we all know this deep down and yet it’s still hard to do. It takes practice. And frankly, it doesn’t always work out – nothing in life is a sure thing. But think about where it might serve you well, and take the plunge. See what happens.

And just think what a major mea culpa from our current president could do to change our immediate future…. it’ll never happen but a girl can dream.


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