Marketing managers assume that at some point in time, some kind of brand crisis will arise. Diverse brands such as Jack in the box restaurants, Firestone tires, Exxon oil, Suzuki Samurai sport utility vehicles, and Martha Stewart have all experienced a serious, potentially crippling brand crisis.
In general, the more that brand equity and a strong corporate image has been established especially with respect to corporate credibility and trustworthiness — the more likely it is that the firm can weather the storm. Careful preparation and well-managed crisis management program are also critical. As Johnson & Johnsonâ€™s nearly flawless handling of the Tylenol product tampering incident suggests, the key to managing a crisis is that consumers see the response by the firm as both swift and sincere.
In terms of swiftness, the longer it takes a firm to respond to a marketing crisis, the more likely it is that consumers can form negative impressions as a result of unfavorable media coverage or word of mouth. Perhaps even worse, consumers may find out that they do not really like the brand that much after all and permanently switch to alternative brands or products.
Perrier was forced to halt production worldwide and recall of its existing bottles in February 1994, when traces of Benzene, a known carcinogen, were found in excessive quantities in the bottled water. Over the course of the next weeks, several explanations were offered as to how the contamination occurred, creating confusion and skepticism. Perhaps even more damaging, the product itself was off the shelves until May 1994. Despite an expensive featuring ads and promotions, the brand struggled to regain lost market share, and a full year later found sales less than half of what they once had seen. Part of the problem was that during the time the product was unavailable, consumers and retailers found satisfactory substitutes. With its key â€œpurityâ€? association tarnished the brand has been advertised as the â€œEarthâ€™s First Soft Drinkâ€? and â€œItâ€™s Perfect Itâ€™s Perrierâ€? — the brand had no other compelling points-of-difference over these competitors. Eventually, the company was taken over by Nestle SA.
Second, swift actions must also come across as sincere. The more sincere the response by the firm — in terms of public acknowledgment of the severity of the impact on consumers and a willingness of the firm to take whatever steps are necessary and feasible to solve the crisis the less likely it is that consumers will form negative attributions.
Although Gerber had established a strong image of trust with consumers, baby food is a product category characterized by an extremely high level of involvement and need for reassurance. When consumers reported finding shards of glass in some jars of its baby food, Gerber tried to reassure the public that there were no problems in its manufacturing plants. But the company adamantly refused to have its baby food withdrawn from food stores. Some consumers clearly found Gerberâ€™s response unsatisfactory: Its market share slumped from 66% to 52% within a couple of months. As one company official admits, â€œNot pulling our baby food off the shelf gave the appearance that we arenâ€™t caring companyâ€?.