What do you do when your Brand is badly damaged?


Right now Pringles in Asia is experiencing a bit of a crisis “Korean food safety agency has issued a recall on Kellogg’s Pringles chips imported from Malaysia, following the discovery of a dead lizard “ Kellogg’s HQ will doubtless be going into damage control mode and asking how do we manage the message around this incident? How do we assure our customers that this is just a one off and that it’s OK to keep on buying Pringles? Whilst this appears to be a disaster for the Brand, this doesn’t have to be the end or even a long-term problem, in fact just the opposite, it’s an opportunity to make the brand even stronger in the future.

We all love the idea of a hero’s journey. The story of the sometimes vain and arrogant person who get’s knocked down by his/her own hubris and has to learn from their mistakes to become a better person. It’s one of the great narratives in film and one we all respond to. (Last week I watched the original Thor movie and it was a key part of the story.) It follows that we also love it when a Brand does the same and that we admire all brands that can hold their hand up and say “We screwed up and we will do better”

To salvage the situation, first of all you have got to apologise properly. Don’t ruin you apology by making an excuse, blame the contractor. (BP Deepwater Horizon) Even if it is their fault, after all it’s your Brand that has been damaged. Be as sincere and thorough as possible and make sure it comes from the heart, not just the head. Don’t complain you are having a tough day, as BP CEO Tony Hayward did I’d like my life back.” take it all on your shoulders and suck it up.


An apology will only get you so far; you will also need to demonstrate immediate action. People really want to see action because it speaks louder than words. When you mess up you need to be seen to be throwing everything you have at fixing the problem and be seen to be taking the initiative. You need to be offering immediate assistance and practical solutions and not waiting for someone else to take the lead.

Mary Barra, the CEO of GM understands this completely. She faced the Ignition scandal head on saying “I never want to put this behind us,” “I want to put this painful experience permanently in our collective memories.” She ignored the GM template for handling these situations — minimize their importance, fight them, drag them out, settle grudgingly. Mary Barra saw that the company had a culture problem and here was an opportunity to attack it head on and that’s exactly what she did, she used it as an opportunity.

Trenton Buzard (2nd L) looks at a picture of himself as a toddler when he was paralyzed in a General Motors car crash, while at a news conference prior to testimony by GM CEO Mary Barra (not pictured) before a U.S. House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on the GM ignition switch recall on Capitol Hill in Washington ,June 18, 2014. Buzard was injured in a crash in 2009 when his great-grandmother's car lost power and was struck head-on by another vehicle. Also pictured are former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Joan Claybrook (L) and Trenton Buzard's father Robbie Buzard (3rd L) REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TRANSPORT BUSINESS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR3UHHJ

Longer term you need to go back to what you do best. Before the scandal happened, perhaps long before, when the Brand was probably well known and loved for something and before all the cost and corner cutting happened. Truth is Pringles have gotten a bit rubbish over the years. The crispness, the flavours, the amount of fresh air in their pack have all been dragging the Brand down. This scandal is an opportunity for Pringles to once again own, the idea of great taste, flavor and ingredients and get back to basics. It also might be a good time for them to look at the Palm Oil Situation too and use it as a key message about their transformation. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/11/key-facts-about-palm-oil/

In a crisis what you need to do is pull in the opposite direction. If your problem was a quality control issues then you become the quality control standard bearer in your industry. Use the problem to reshape your Brand. If it’s an emissions scandal related to diesel engines then invest like crazy in Electric Vehicles. If it’s exploding batteries, become known for having the safest batteries in your phones. If it’s child labour, then bring manufacturing back home. If you are BP then you need to champion marine conservation and live your slogan “Beyond Petroleum” This thinking is very much inline with Trend Watching’s ideas on Brand redemption, where big Brands solve the problems they are perceived to be creating. It’s worth a look here: http://trendwatching.com/trends/big-brand-redemption/

Der neue Volkswagen e-Golf

Alternatively -work with the problem! Put a dead lizard in every pack, it’s a great point of difference and certainly worked for El Famoso Mezcal Tequila! J