Today, Taco Bell (a subsidiary of Yum! Brands) reached the pinnacle of its biggest marketing campaign in history to launch its Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos. But late last week, news came out of the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency that beef used in Taco Bells there tested positive for horse meat. In response, here’s what Taco Bell posted on its “domestic” website in the News Releases section:
Mar 01, 2013
Irvine, CA – March 1, 2013
Our domestic restaurants have not been, and will not be, impacted because we do not use any meat from Europe. We stand for quality and we use 100% premium beef. Like all beef in the United States, ours is USDA inspected and then passes our own 20 quality checkpoints. To learn more about our ingredients and food facts, please visit us at: http://www.tacobell.com/nutrition/foodfacts
And here’s what was posted on March 2 to the company’s Taco Bell UK Facebook page:
What’s interesting is that there are two different messages. The first, aimed at Americans, is an attempt to reassure customers that they use 100 percent premium beef. The second, aimed at UK customers, contains an apology and explains that they are receiving new deliveries.
Two different messages aimed at two different audiences worked fine in the 20th century and even the early 21st century. But today, it’s easy for consumers, the media and other influencers to find both statements and come to their own conclusions.
I get that when you are dealing with different cultures that messages might differ slightly. But if you are a global company like Yum! Brands and your reputation is challenged in one country, it’s not a good idea to try to isolate potentially negative information or to use different messaging about the same subject. The world is too small and information moves too fast to expect no one will notice.
What do other marketing/PR/advertising folks think? What do you think as a consumer? And, do you think the horse meat news will impact sales of the new tacos product globally? Please leave a comment below or Tweet #RichKleinCrisis.
Update, 2:30 pm EDT, March 6:
Apparently, there’s a shortage of the new taco product after the company announced it would start selling them a day early.
Since starting The Crisis Show in June 2012, I’ve spent each week combing through some of the most high profile crisis situations facing companies, governments and individuals in the public eye.
Here’s some crisis management takeaways that we hope are wake-up calls in 2013:
1 – Nearly all the reputation damage from crisis situations we analyzed could have been minimized if leaders were more decisive in the earliest stages of their crises.
2 — Many executives and government officials failed to express appropriate emotions in their media statements and when facing journalists in person. And most have the resources to get top level media training!
3 — Despite having significant social media presence, global companies often failed to communicate on Twitter, Facebook, etc. to update critical audiences about their crisis or, worse, they promoted products on these sites even when people had been harmed or when their product was recalled.
4 — Some big companies turned all spokesperson duties over to litigation attorneys, who might win in court years later, but who can be tone deaf when it comes to protecting a company’s reputation in the short term.
5 — Organizations did not accept responsibility for their actions or inactions early in a crisis and failed to offer heartfelt apologies. Sometimes, attorneys warn clients not to apologize because it could cost them significantly in lawsuits. Other times, it’s just the head-in-the-sand corporate culture. But people notice — and take their business to competitors.
The start of a new year is an ideal time to assess vulnerabilities and brewing crisis situations that can harm reputation before they spin out of your control.
Wishing everyone peace, happiness and prosperity in 2013.
Here’s a replay of Episode #7 of The Crisis Show, which aired on August 1, 2012.
We covered many crises/controversies, including the blackout in India, Chick-fil-A, NBC/Twitter and London2012, Hyundai, Mitt Romney and more.
For more information about the show, please visit The Crisis Show website.
We welcome your comments, suggestions for future shows and questions about various crisis situations. Please email
questions@TheCrisisShow.com or TheCrisisShow@gmail.com.
Here’s the video from Episode #3 of The Crisis Show via Google Hangouts and TheCrisisShow channel on YouTube.
For more information about the show, which airs every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, please visit
Skippy, the peanut butter brand owned by Unilever, is in the middle of an extensive recall of some of its products because of the risk they contain salmonella. Whether the company’s lawyers are managing the crisis or playing a role in PR decisions or not, Skippy is limiting the use of its Twitter account to answer questions about the recall and referring people only to the official news release on the company website or to their toll free number. That’s a very good start in a crisis — but a company that limits its online conversations to responding to questions is missing a golden opportunity to communicate effectively in a crisis.
The company announced the recall on Friday, March 4 in a news release posted on its homepage and on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website. But nothing about the recall was noted on its Twitter account until Sunday, March 6 when the company began responding to recall questions that were posed publicly by Twitter users. However, all these Tweets did was to confirm the recall and then referred people to the news release or phone number.
So much more can, and should be, done to defend the company’s reputation. First, the company could have driven home the message online that the recall decision was made by the company after its own testing of the products — instead of a government agency investigating and mandating a recall. Corporate reputations are improved when companies look out for customer safety before someone is injured but they are harmed when there’s a perception that it is cutting corners and the government has to come in to slap their wrists or take legal action.
Unilever does not seem in sync with its own polices/guidelines regarding communications about its food products. Read this.
Skippy also should have been using Twitter (as well as YouTube, Facebook, etc.) throughout the first few hours/days of the crisis to tell the world what it was doing to resolve the crisis, to remind regularly that no one was reported sick from their products and that the company is doing everything possible to ensure the safety of its customers. If proactive and corrective measures are already in play, why not tell the world?
YouTube might have been used to show an executive at Skippy talking about his or her concern for consumers and explaining the recall process and its full cooperation with the FDA. A video might also remind customers that the recall is limited to the reduced fat peanut butters. Digital video also allows a company to (literally) put a human face to the brand and to be more personal with customers. That is exactly what’s called for in a crisis in which trust and credibility might be at risk.
(As the founder of the Crisis Communications Network on Ning.com, I refer you to a collection of videos there that show leaders facing the media in serious crisis situations.You can also find my earlier post about Skippy and its use of Twitter here.)
Finally, a company that was smart enough to buy the domain http://www.peanutbutter.com (reportedly in 1998) shows it understood the power of the Internet. However, its “Skippy” Twitter account has less than 300 followers. So even if Skippy used Twitter more effectively today, its reach will be limited without multiple retweets and mentions. The lesson here is that companies need to build a strong online following in good times so that in a crisis you reach the masses with your messages, rather than people believing the many rumors and inaccuracies people often find on Google and Bing during a crisis.
What do you think? Is it enough to respond to customers or should Skippy/Unilever be more proactive and take advantage of all social media tools to defend its reputation?
And because I like nostalgia, here’s a classic Skippy commercial from the 1950’s..