Pantene's New "Sorry" Ad Informs & Delights

By Amy-Willard Cross

Begging your pardon, and sorry to say, but women tend to apologize more. Sometimes reflexively, and when they’ve not actually done anything wrong.

A recent video by Pantene points out this behavior and has gotten great kudos and attention for doing so. It follows on the viral success of a commercial about labeling women, which has clocked 46 million views! 

In the 60 second spot, women use the word sorry when asking for a meeting or when scooting over when a man takes a seat. Or even when handing their baby to its dad (!). More meaningfully, the ad also shows the same women NOT apologizing, in a "What Do you Say Dear" kind of way, that  goes overboard into the fantasy of sarcasm. As with the line, "sorry-not sorry."

Psychologist Karina Schumann, who has studied people’s perceptions of apologies and gender—showing that men do actually apologize more than assumed—agreed to speculate on some of these apologetic issues. 


Is it possible to apologize too much? In the workplace or anywhere women are trying to achieve respect, over-apologizing might seem overly emotional or submissive. Although Schumann notes she hasn’t studied the phenomenon, she says, "It is possible that the asymmetrical use of apologies could reinforce status differences between men and women."


If you step on someone’s toes, what’s the point in pretending you didn’t? A woman might seem partcularly hard-hearted not to. Schumann, who is now a postdoctoral fellow in the Psychology Department at Stanford University, ventures to say that "Women in particular might receive backlash for being unapologetic, as it violates gender stereotypes of warmth and politeness."


The best strategy might be to apologize more mindfully, says Schumann. "Sometimes an apology is deserved, and it might be exactly what is needed to defuse a problematic situation or show that you care. The challenge comes in learning to distinguish those situations from the situations that might warrant a polite gesture but not necessarily an apology."


As well as using funny videos to teach people not to throw around empty mea culpas, the people of Pantene are going to catch young women early before the sorrys set in. Pantene has partnered with the American Association of University Women to help young women Shine Strong. The company will offer grants of up to $5,000 to 12 different student teams to fund projects that fight stereotypes and biases. How many shampoos do that?