AppSumo and Michael J. Fox: An online marketer makes a solid apology

If you’re in mass media or sales or nearly any other activity involving humans, write this down: Don’t make fun of sick people.

AppSumo, an online selling company that relies on emails and clever writing, learned that lesson this week. Its April 25 email peddling a product included a joke involving Michael J. Fox, who in 1998 made public his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. (He has been known to make jokes at his own expense, such as this appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm. (note some bad language.))

AppSumo’s line: “We’ve all taken a photo or video that looks like Michael J. Fox was behind the lens.”

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To its credit, the company quickly apologized and said it would donate profits on sales of the Pocket Tripod (a small iPhone stand) to Fox’s non-profit for Parkinson’s research.

In our poor attempt at imitative humor, we crossed the line and in the process offended many of you, our Sumo-ling family.

It was by no means in our intention to belittle a disease as serious as Parkinson’s – a condition that affects nearly 10 million people around the world. There were a thousand other ways to crack that particular joke and it’s unfortunate that we chose the one we did.

While we know this is only a first step, we are donating all the profits from the Pocket Tripod offer directly to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

We are also updating our email review process to make sure this never happens again.

Once again, our deepest apologies, and we promise to do better next time.

The company’s fast response checked off all four elements of a good apology:

  1. Express remorse.
  2. Admit responsibility.
  3. Make amends.
  4. Be strategic in showing how it won’t happen again.

Michael J. Fox may have no Elvis in him, but I’m bet he’s pleased at the result.

The moral: Mistakes are inevitable. How you deal with them defines your morality to yourself and others.

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