How PR Teams Do It
Change is a difficult thing for many of us students to readily accept. We like traditions and when they’re tampered with it rarely goes down well! Imagine the classic Coca-Cola can changing from red to blue? Or how about the beloved Andrex Labrador puppy being replaced with a cat? A CAT? Dog lovers would be far from pleased. We know that big brands often decide to take that risky step, making a change. Sometimes it’s crucial and sometimes not.
How is the backlash and customer uproar dealt with when traditions are taken away? Who takes control and helps protect the reputation of the business? PR teams. Other than word of mouth for spreading opinion, (yes people still communicate in person believe it or not) it is often social media that is adopted as a venting channel. Angry Tweeters and Facebookers take to their smart phones to express fury towards ‘disloyal’ brands.
A recent example has been the changes to Toblerone’s classic chocolate bar. Just in time for Christmas, the Swiss chocolate brand, owned by Mondelēz International, widened the gaps between the comfortably familiar triangular shaped pieces. This resulted in outraged customers taking to social media en masse to criticise the “stupid”, “ridiculous” and “just plain dumb” move. One customer believed the change to be an effort to create a lower calorie product stating: “Diet version? #FeelCheated.” A further opinion is that Toblerone now “have a premium-priced product that looks like a weird knock-off of itself.” And of course, Brexit was brought into matters as many felt the 14.5% drop in value for the pound was to blame for the new version, now only weighing 260g compared with its original 400g weight. Perhaps fair opinions. Who wants to pay the same price for a bar with nearly half the amount of chocolate? As a big chocolate fan, I certainly empathise!
In reaction to the display of customer rage, a statement released on Toblerone’s Facebook page said: “Like many other companies, we are experiencing higher costs for numerous ingredients.” Another spokesperson for Mondelēz International said: “The price rise was not related to Brexit. However, it comes after several companies sought to raise prices to offset the effect of a plunging pound since the vote to leave the EU.” Here we see how Toblerone sought to respond to negative accusations by providing the facts on the matter. But is it enough to calm the storm?
Starbucks is another brand being thrown into controversy. Their traditional and much anticipated red cup, released for a limited period each Christmas, was replaced by a green and white coloured design. This debuted last Christmas, appearing to abruptly take over. The cup featured a collage of 100 people and aimed to “create a symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values and the need to be good to each other,” according Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz.
This move by Starbucks influenced an army of bitter customers to come forward stating the design to be; “ugly” and questioning “how did the holiday spirit become a political agenda?” Others furiously tweeted; “@Starbucks I need answers. This new green cup is extremely ugly & gives me anxiety.”
Having dealt with controversy before, Starbucks responded in a way that provides valuable lessons for responsible crisis management. They refrained from putting out insubstantial statements and instead stated in advance that; “The green cup and the design represent the connections Starbucks has as a community with its partners and customers”, in their news release. Confidently standing by the original message can, at times, be the best way to ride out a storm in a teacup (pun intended).
Starbucks also tried to correct any false media reports confirming that the festive red cup is coming, and not to worry. Some media outlets wrongly reported that the new design was to be the official new holiday cup but Starbucks kept above things, informing Fortune and CBS News that the green cup was merely a limited-time design.
Here we see a brand sticking to its guns and using online influencers to do its talking. Social media and false reporting are a toxic mix but throw politics into the equation and you have plenty more to deal with. As we are studying PR, which is a constantly evolving industry, we understand the importance for brands to change as time goes on. This is how they stay current and compete successfully against competitors. However, it’s always essential for companies to stay loyal to their traditions and during controversial times like these, a great PR team is paramount.