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Welcome to the Age of Regret.

By Dr Matilda Andersson

Welcome to the age of regret. The age of regret is where we start owning our mistakes, and people, institutions, governments, and brands start turning regrets into something positive, a source for growth and deeper connection. Dr. Matilda Andersson, Managing Director of Truth Consulting, shares insights on the age of regret and what it means for brands, comms and reputation management.


Regrets have for a long time been viewed in a negative light. Associated with depressive thoughts, something to move through quickly and combat with positive thinking. Today we’ve seen several signs that there’s a shift in perception of the role of regret in culture – with implications for people, brands and administrations.


Psychologists, like Dr. Simon Kayaga, explore regret as a potent human emotion, framing it not as a burden but as a tool for growth. Rather than self-criticism, healthy regret, fosters self-improvement. There's been a notable surge in the pursuit of personal development, and mindfulness focused on pre-empting future regret, evident in the abundance of books, podcasts, and articles covering the topic. For example, "The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying" by Bonnie Ware provide valuable insights into more fulfilled conscious living and The School Of Greatness podcast features guests sharing regrets and lessons learnt. Simultaneously, there's now more signs of intentional decision-making. Individuals and brands alike are increasingly aware of the long-term consequences of their actions, prompting a more thoughtful consideration of potential regrets before making significant choices.


In 2024, there’s a lot to regret - societal actions leading up to the climate crisis, economic and social inequality, conflict, and war. Governments, organisations, people, and brands that express genuine regret when they’ve done something wrong often excel in trust and popularity. Regret signals emotional depth: it shows where your values are and where you're heading. History has shown that instead of sticking our heads in the sand, it’s better to face up to mistakes and embrace a balanced and positive regret culture.


In 2015, Volkswagen's diesel emissions scandal exposed the installation of software in millions of vehicles to cheat emissions tests, leading to environmental and health concerns. The Volkswagen brand was at an all-time reputational low. The fallout included public apologies, billions in fines, and a commitment to electric vehicles. The scandal served as a wake-up call for the automotive industry, sparking greater awareness and scrutiny of environmental standards and regulations. It prompted other manufacturers to re-evaluate their emissions testing practices and prioritise cleaner technologies. Governments also implemented stricter regulations and emissions standards, pushing the industry towards greener alternatives, showcasing how regret can drive positive change.


Another way regret is showing up in culture today is through ‘Apology Videos’. These videos have become an internet phenomenon on TikTok and YouTube and are now a genre in their own right, alongside ‘Get Ready With Me’ videos. The content often features a regretful celebrity, demonstrating face-to-camera filming with an emotional, trembling voice and a pared-back background. Perceived humility and authenticity are the aim, but not everyone rings true.


In December 2023, Chiara Ferragni released an apology video following the controversy surrounding the proceeds of her viral holiday cake collaboration with Barlocco, which failed to benefit a children’s hospital to the scale initially promised. Instead Barlocco donated a fixed sum of only €50,000, the rest was profit for Ferragni. The video features Ferragni in a more subdued appearance, with minimal makeup and set against a neutral background, a departure from her usual glamorous persona. The look of the video, the muted colours, Chiara’s outfit, indicates the development of regret aesthetics. However, the apology received mixed reactions from her fans, where some perceived it as lacking sincerity and depth.


Chiara Ferragni, apology video

A more warmly received expression of regret occurred in January 2024 when Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool's football manager, released a heartfelt video announcing his premature departure from the club. Klopp's departure video struck a chord with viewers, emanating sincerity as he expressed genuine gratitude towards the club, its players, and the dedicated fanbase. His farewell message was marked by a sense of respect, showcasing the strong emotional connection he had cultivated during his time at Liverpool. In the video, Klopp also took the opportunity to reflect on the legacy he was leaving behind and conveyed his optimism for the club's future.


“I love absolutely everything about this club, I love everything about the city, I love everything about our supporters, I love the team, I love the staff. But that I still take this decision shows you that I am convinced it is the one I have to take."


What the apology video phenomenon highlights, even though mostly ridiculed, is that we've entered an era where a generation of public figures have started refining their communication strategies for expressing regret, we call it ‘Regret Comms’.


Regret alone isn't necessarily going to lead to a successful path ahead. However, regret can have a positive impact when used and demonstrated as a valuable learning tool, helping individuals and brands to genuinely reflect on past actions, outline decisions, and make positive changes for the future. Kim Polley, Managing Partner at comms and reputation consultancy Instinctif, shares reflections, and tips for developing a positive regret culture and how to get the most out of regret comms:   


1.     Foster a proactive growth and feedback culture by promoting an organisational environment that values learning from mistakes. Encourage transparency and accountability to minimise regrets and prevent the need for future apologies.


2.     Develop a plan and take affirmative actions. By being deliberate, proactive, purpose-driven, and adhering to core values, you can avoid future regrets.


3.     Cultivate consistent transparency and sincerity, not just in times of crisis. Establishing an open dialogue among brands, stakeholders, and audiences fosters genuine learning and development.


4.     Consider the significance of platform, language, and semiotics when expressing regret. Choose the most suitable platform where stakeholders are actively engaged and ensure your regret communication includes clear steps forward. Everything from colours and tone of voice to background and attire communicates a message, so be mindful of both verbal and non-verbal cues in your regret communications.


5.     Demonstrate continuous learning by not only monitoring perceptions but also staying ahead of cultural shifts. Strive to remain culturally relevant by continuously learning and staying attuned to the zeitgeist to avoid behaviours that may be perceived as regrettable in the future.


In the future, regret will feature in our public consciousness in multiple ways. Organisations will run regret trainings, communications specialists will advise on it, and we’ll see a sophistication of the verbal but also, the semiotics of regret and apologies will become more and more sophisticated.


To find out more about The Age Of Regret tune into our Truth Revealed podcast on the topic with Kim Polley Managing Partner Instinctif Partners and Dr Matilda Andersson Managing Director Truth Consulting.


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