Mars – short term pain for long term gain?

Ironically Kristen Kinkella, Director of Corporate Affairs at Mars, Chocolate had to pull out of last Thursday’s Food and Drink Federation ‘Staying on shelf’ event as the brand was in the process of orchestrating its biggest ever international product recall across 55 countries after a customer in Germany found bits of plastic in a Snickers bar. It’s been a turbulent few days for the global confectionery manufacturer to say the least, attracting sensational news headlines such as ‘Choco horror’ and huge consumer engagement on social media. In the UK alone ‘Mars recall’ is ranking No.8 in terms of top search terms. So with all of this exposure what are the likely repercussions to both brand and reputation?

The financial cost for such a drastic product recall will be significant and no doubt extremely painful to the brand in the short term, particularly with Easter one of the biggest sales periods for confectionery just around the corner. From a longer term, corporate reputation perspective though according to PR Week and many other industry commentators there is general consensus from communications professionals that Mars has got its strategy right and personally I have to agree. By taking voluntary and pre-emptive measures on such a huge scale Mars has sent a clear signal to its customers about how seriously it takes both the safety and quality of its products, this is particularly pertinent given the fun size products which have been affected in the UK targeted at families . Unlike other notable product recalls such as VW or during the horsemeat scandal where integrity, transparency and honesty were called into question Mars has been both responsive and responsible and much of this can be credited to its communications strategy. Early anecdotal feedback from retailers suggests they feel Mars has handled the crisis and recall well, and answered their questions – which is impressive given the sheer scale of this.

In a crisis communication needs to be planned, timely and sincere but essentially also controlled. In the case of Mars, company spokesperson, Eline Bijveld, corporate affairs co-ordinator appears to have conducted a news agency style interview in the Netherlands immediately which was then syndicated to national news desks around the world. The majority of subsequent broadcast coverage however has relied predominantly on industry commentators and analysist for interviews. This combination of transparency, access and control appears to have paid huge dividends in terms of the tone of the resulting coverage and public perception.

While only time will tell the true cost to Mars of this product recall in terms of reputation they appear to have given other manufactures a bit of a masterclass in how to handle a crisis. If they can maintain this momentum and responsiveness, and manage Easter stock issues effectively, they may have just enhanced brand equity via trust.

Kate Harris

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