Friday, June 22, 2012

Don't Deny the O: Oprah v. Hermes (June 22, 2005)


What was the deal?  The Paris luxury store Hermes turned away Oprah Winfrey, who arrived at the shop 15 minutes after closing in order to buy a watch for Tina Turner.  Winfrey’s spokesperson suggested that the action was racially motivated, calling it a “Crash moment” (a reference to the film about racial politics in Los Angeles).

How did they respond?  A week later and seven years ago today, Hermes released a statement:  “Hermes regrets not having been able to accommodate Ms. Winfrey and her team and to provide her with the service and care that Hermes strives to provide to each and every one of its customers worldwide.  Hermes apologizes for any offense taken due to such circumstances.”  In separate remarks to CNN, the store also denied any racial intent and disclosed that Hermes privately extended an invitation for Winfrey to return to the store.  A CNN report on the incident can be found here.

How did they do? This is a good example of a straightforward, concise image repair apology.  Notice how the statement does “brag up” the store a bit in terms of its typical standard of care and global status, otherwise known as the strategy of “bolstering,” which attempts to reinforce the accused’s credibility despite the controversy.  The direct denial of racial motivation is effective as well.

Final call?  Save.  Hermes may be “luxury,” but Oprah’s Oprah.  The mathematical formula is O v X (anyone) = O > X.  Not much choice but to apologize.  No word on whether Tina ever got her watch.  

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