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Using Bad News To A Brand's Advantage

Posted by: David Kiley on October 30, 2007

Perhaps an obsession with quality since J.D. Power and Associates rankings and the like have come to dominate our perception of brands have made many marketers forget that most consumers don’t expect them to be perfect—just responsive.

Speaking at Nielsen Business Media’s Next Big Idea Conference, evp of strategic services at Nielsen Online Pete Blackshaw focused his remarks on brand intelligence as he explained how companies can “defensively” market their stuff by turning negative trends in the marketplace to their advantage. Blackshaw noted the surge in the blog traffic surrounding consumer crises such as the Mattel toy and pet-food recalls are opportunities for brands to have a touch-point with consumers. “What do you do with a spike of negative buzz?” he asked. “Are you accountable for the solution?”

The problem here is that the first call from CEOs at a time of crisis is usually to the lawyers. If a PR person is consulted, that person seldom has as much throw-weight as the lawyers. And what do lawyers do? They play defense and say No a lot.

Companies, said Blackburn, should learn to “manage around the spikes, listen, react” and move money out of mass media and into online channels—putting more resources into such strategies as buying defensive keyword searches.

I Googled “tainted pet food” today, and there were no sponsored links. I Googled “lead paint” and there were no pro-active hits from toy companies. An interesting sponsored link that came up when I Googled “Mattel” was a story on about Mattel’s mea culpa about design flaws leading to lead paint being used on its toys, rather than blaming barely-existent Chinese consumer-safety regulations and enforcement. “Put as much energy into the angry buzz as fostering the happy buzz,” says Blackshaw.

In my experience, consumers are pretty responsive to companies and brands who engage, especially when there is a problem.

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Reader Comments

Bob Hoffman

October 31, 2007 06:52 PM

So let me get this straight. You think a good way to spend your pet food marketing dollars is to pay for a link adjacent to search results for "tainted pet food." Call me crazy, but I just don't see a big ROI on that investment.

Andrew jacob

November 2, 2007 12:28 PM

Steven Levitt pointed out today on the freakonomics blog that the totino's ecoli outbreak has rekindled his love for their pizza products


December 27, 2007 09:05 AM


I think what the author is trying to say is that there is an oppurtunity within the "tainted toys" story. Organizations can use a potential crisis as a brand building exercise by viewing negative buzz as customer relationship/interaction opportunity.Apology as a tool is not often used - unfortunately for "big" companies.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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