WHO Is Taking WHAT Seriously?

Again and again, apologetic public statements by company spokespeople feature the phrase, “taking it seriously,” or a variant thereof. Are all these companies really taking things as seriously as they say? Or is “taking it seriously” seen as an all-purpose incantation from the PR grimoire that magically erases away wrongdoing? A sort of “disaster ketchup?” Since we always like to see the good in humanity, we’ll refrain from passing judgment, and instead offer up eight recent iterations of the phrase so you can decide for yourselves.

familytrees.jpgWHO: Lowe’s
WHAT: Calling Christmas Trees “Family Trees”
WHERE: Lowe’s Apologizes for ‘Family Trees’ in Christmas Catalog [CNSNNEWS]
THE QUOTE: “We take this situation very seriously and are redoubling our efforts to proofread those catalogs in the future.”

naturaltaragum.jpgWHO: Breyer’s
WHAT: Changing ice cream formula by adding Tara gum.
WHERE: Breyer’s Ice Cream Has Tara Gum [Consumerist]
THE QUOTE: “In response to your questions regarding the use of tara gum in its ice cream, Breyers is proud of its all-natural heritage. It’s a position we take very seriously and one we work hard to maintain…By adding a natural gum to Breyers All Natural Vanilla ice cream, we’ve helped to protect the product’s texture while staying true to our all-natural commitment.”

36hours.jpgWHO: Healthcare Distribution Management Association
WHAT: Counterfeit drugs being sold in pharmacies.
WHERE: Fake drugs show up in U.S. pharmacies [USA TODAY]
THE QUOTE: “We take it very seriously.”

cribdeath.jpgWHO: CPSC
WHAT: Cribs that kill babies.
WHERE: Baby Cribs Recalled After Three Deaths [AP]
THE QUOTE: “When we learn of a crib-related death, we take it very seriously.”


WHO: Bell Mobility
WHAT: A “Pimp” ringtone referencing “ho’s” and featuring the sound of women getting slapped.
WHERE: Bell Mobility hangs up voice of terror ringtone [National Post]
THE QUOTE: After women’s shelters complained, Bell said, “We learned from the Pimp Tones incident and Bell does take these concerns very seriously.”
BONUS: Later in the year, there were complaints about a different “Pimp Tone,” this one had a woman screaming, “Don’t touch me! Get back! No! No-o-o!” Bell said, “Obviously, the opinion of our customers and the public is very important to us and we take it very seriously.”

mooninitesattack.jpgWHO: Boston
WHAT: Hand-made LED signs featuring characters from the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” cartoon.
WHERE: Boston drops charges against Mooninite terror cell leaders [BoingBoing]
THE QUOTE: “I hope the message goes out to all guerrilla marketers who plan on doing business in Boston that we take the public safety of those who live and work here very seriously.”

manholes.jpgWHO: ConEd
WHAT: Revelation that they outsource their manhole smelting to nearly naked Indians paid dollars a day.
WHERE: New York Manhole Covers, Forged Barefoot in India [NYT]
THE QUOTE: “We were disturbed by the photos. We take worker safety very seriously.”

baggedletuce.jpgWHO: United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association
WHAT: E.coli in bagged lettuce
WHERE: Unseen danger in bagged salads [MSNBC]
Q: The Food and Drug Administration and the California authorities say that the E.coli outbreaks came from bag lettuce. You disagree?
A: Well, it’s certainly their firm belief and we take it seriously.

(Photos: sonyaseattle, DCvision2006, J. Adam Huggins. “Public Relations” image by Ben Popken)
Additional reporting by Alex Chasick and Meghann Marco.


Edit Your Comment

  1. timmus says:

    Thanks, Ben… I’m glad someone is on their soapbox about corporate mumbo-jumbo. For the past two years I have been saying that companies seem to have a Damage Control Playbook and these are the kind of phrases they are constantly digging out. I propose a Wankometer designed for corporate statements so everyone can check on how honest an apology is.

  2. Cad06 says:

    Somewhat akin to the administration saying “mistakes were made” without claiming any ownership of said mistakes.

  3. mupethifi says:

    One of my favorite company lines, along with ‘take it very seriously’ is also ‘we are excited’. Usually said when they offer a new product, or or have a new, joint venture with another company.

  4. Or is “taking it seriously” seen as an all-purpose incantation from the PR grimoire that magically erases away wrongdoing? A sort of “disaster ketchup?”

    The phrases “all-purpose incantation” and “disaster ketchup” need to be on t-shirts.

    I would take such t-shirts very seriously.

  5. ihearttombrady says:

    I hope that Lowe’s is taking its ‘family tree’ craziness as seriously as the CPSC’s crib death claims.

  6. smitty1123 says:

    @timmus: Wankometer sounds like a male sex toy…

  7. hubris says:

    I had to return my XBOX 360 for the rrod a couple weeks ago, and while perusing MS’s website for it, I kept seeing “we apologize for the inconvenience”. And after about the fifth time, it struck me how so damn empty words have become. People say things and just assume that words make it all better. It’s about time we make it clear that the old adage “stick and stones” also works when it comes to *results*. Don’t blow smoke up my ass….DO SOMETHING.

  8. bonzombiekitty says:

    The “family tree” thing is annoying, just because a bunch of people seemed to think it was some sort of attack on christmas. Looking at the ad, it’s obvious that Lowes was trying to get people who don’t celebrate christmas to buy christmas trees (hence the “START a holiday tradition…”)

  9. timmus says:

    @smitty1123:Yeah… true, but just in case no one has heard of Wankometer it’s here (perfectly SFW). It’s been around for 8 or 9 years. Very Web 1.0.

  10. Nick986 says:

    I figured most of these companies use macro’s in Microsoft Word. “Do a CTRL+F3 on this one Bob and send it off”.

  11. silver-spork says:

    It’s too bad Breyer’s started adding tara gum to the all-natural vanilla ice cream. Now it just tastes like any other second-rate brand. Oh well, I should use my ice cream maker more often anyway.

  12. OK, the picture you just put up for the article also needs to be a t-shirt!

    Boston took things way too seriously.

  13. clevershark says:

    Don’t forget “your call is very important to us” when you’ve been put on hold, proving once and for all that your call is in fact *not* important enough for them to hire enough reps to actually answer them in a timely manner.

  14. timmus says:

    I usually grind my axe over “For English, press 1, por Espanol marque dos.” In other words, “we’re too cheap to get a second number to handle our Spanish customers, so we’ll just waste everyone’s time.”

  15. landsnark says:

    “Disaster ketchup” – Ben, you sir are a poet. Like rectilinear, I would take a t-shirt with these words very seriously.

  16. velho says:

    The baby crib picture made me cry – things like that do since I had kids. And I’m a 34 year old guy.

  17. Celticlady says:

    How about a CSR droning in a thick accent, ” I am sorry you feel that way”. They aren’t sorry enough to FIX the freeking problem, or are sorry that it happened…they are just sorry that I have feelings.


    I think a list of meaningless corporate phrases is needed here!

  18. Beerad says:

    Well, if the CSR drone says “We’re taking it SERIOULY” like that poor photoshopped silhouette, that’s a tipoff that something’s amiss.

    Seriouly, though, it’s pretty easy to tell when the apology is sincere — if the person on the phone seems to be earnest (or better yet, is actually trying to resolve my problem) it’s nice. If the person is curt, barely courteous in the first place, and stammers through an obviously scripted “apology” in the same breath as “isthereanythingelseIcanhelpyouwithtoday?kthxbai!” then it just makes it so offensively worse than if no attempt was made at all.

    As others have noted, “disaster ketchup” is an awesome term.

  19. Vicky says:

    I spotted one this morning in a local news finding on doctor dissatisfaction with Houston-area insurers. In response to 70% of doctors reporting denials for medically necessary care and 85% of doctors having difficulty with coverage for immunizations: “In a written statement, Aetna says it takes physician satisfaction seriously, but questioned the survey’s methodology and the validity of its findings.”

    Story: [www.kuhf.org]
    Report: [www.hcms.org]

  20. royal72 says:

    “shirley you can’t be serious?”

  21. clank-o-tron says:

    @velho: Man, that picture of the baby crib was hilarious – but only because there wasn’t actually any danger to a real child. And also because I’m a heartless bastard.

  22. ExtraCelestial says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation:

    agreed. diaster ketchup is fantastic… not to mention delicious!

  23. faust1200 says:

    @velho: It’s ok Velho. But don’t worry that is a highly trained and experienced stunt baby.

  24. ludwigk says:

    Family Tree? Who cares? It’s an adopted pagan ritual anyways. How many christmas trees are in the bible?

    Jesus did his “bidness” in the holy land. They don’t even have coniferous trees.

  25. GreatCaesarsGhost says:

    You’re taking this seriously? As opposed to what? Taking it humorously? “Your lettuce is killing people.” “I know, isn’t that hilarious!?”

    It’s like people who say, “I’ll be honest with you…” Because without that note, everything you say is a lie?

  26. CumaeanSibyl says:

    Okay, ONE pimp tone I can see. But two? With the second one being way, way more offensive than the first?

    Good job, guys. Wow.

  27. SVreader says:

    @royal72: I am serious. And stop calling me Shirley.

  28. Balisong says:

    On an entirely unrelated note, I’m overjoyed on seeing the word “grimoire” in this post since I used it in a story for my creative writing class and the teacher said I might consider using a different word since noone will know what a grimoire is :D

  29. magus_melchior says:

    @CumaeanSibyl: The Bell Mobility president didn’t want to give up his favorite tunes.

    @timmus: Something like this, perhaps?

  30. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @magus_melchior: Ah, yes, the soothing sounds of female terror.

    Can you imagine being in line at the grocery store or somewhere and having your phone go off in your pocket with that? I mean, I know I want my ringtone to make me look like a sociopath.