Turn a crisis into an opportunity

“The fat man of Europe” is how the UK has been described by the Academy of the Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) which represents more than 200,000 doctors. Apparently we are about to see “generation after generation falling victim to obesity-related illnesses and death” if the food and drink industry isn’t quick to change its marketing activity.

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The AMRC wants to see a “fat tax” added to products like sugary drinks, along with clearer labelling on calorie information and a ban on advertising certain foods before 9pm. Its announcement couldn’t have been timed better, following as it does the weeks of revelation about the contents of our food in the horsemeat scandal.

The ad industry and advertiser trade body ISBA have been quick to respond, questioning the validity of the doctors’ claims that marketing is to blame for obesity. But let’s look at the bigger, more worrying issue here than TV ad watersheds or labelling. Both the AMRC’s claims and the horsemeat fiasco are eroding consumer confidence. At a time when retailers need people to feel good about products and buy them, they are hearing nothing but negative stories.

Last week in this column, I asked what effect the horsemeat scandal would have on trust in brands. Trust in businesses is still far higher than trust in the Government, according to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer. People want to trust brands to do a good job. They want to believe that brands, untarnished by the complex negotiations of politics, can be relied on to do the right thing.

So the challenge for brands affected by horsemeat, criticism from doctors or any other major issue is to turn the crisis into a positive scenario. Already, Nielsen has reported research showing that customers are shunning supermarket-label frozen burgers but not their branded equivalents. That’s an opportunity for long-established brands to steal market share.

Mark Ritson looks at how to turn a crisis into an opportunity using an approach that is centred on organisations’ own brand values rather than generic crisis management plans. He warns that although there are opportunities to be gained from successfully dealing with a crisis, adopting a standard approach will not be successful.

The start of 2013 has not been good for food and drink brands, whether it’s supply chain issues, criticism of product content or their social media accounts being hacked (see Burger King’s experience). But those brands that use this as an opportunity to re-examine their relationship with consumers may find that the rest of the year looks quite healthy.

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