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When the biggest and best brands start to wobble.

When the biggest and best brands start to wobble

Some of the biggest brands in the world have the occasional wobble, but the best ones are usually quick to recognize their mistakes and put them right.

Take the case of Tesco. Food inspectors in Ireland discovered horse DNA in frozen beef-burgers processed by ABP Food Group and sold by Tesco, Iceland, Lidl and Aldi. Only Tesco burgers, however, had a high equine content. One of its Everyday Value burgers was found to be 29% horsemeat.

The Everyday Value label stretches across a range of products, from breakfast cereals to chocolate bars and from canned fruit to cleaning products.

In order to limit the damage to the range and the supermarket as a whole, the company took out full-page advertisements in the national press. Headed 'We apologize', the ads went on to say that Tesco had withdrawn from sale all products from the supplier in question. Anyone with one of the affected products at home could take it back for a full refund.

The ad continued: 'We and our supplier have let you down…So here's our promise. We will find out exactly what happened and, when we do, we will come back and tell you. And we will work harder than ever with our suppliers to make sure this never happens again.'

Coffee-chain Starbucks was similarly quick to make amends when it emerged that the company was taking advantage of a complex tax structure that enabled it to pay almost no corporation tax in the UK.

In the December 5th issue of Marketing, Jane Bainbridge points out that, following the revelation and subsequent public outcry, Starbucks released an official statement saying that it was 'in discussions' with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the Treasury. 'We have listened to feedback from customers and employees, and understand that to maintain and build public trust we need to do more,' it said.

Kris Engskov, managing director of Starbucks UK, later announced that the firm would pay 'a significant amount of tax during 2013 and 2014, regardless of whether the company is profitable'. He estimated that the extra tax could amount to £20 million over two years.

Fast-food retailer McDonald's was a third brand to suffer criticism. Its products' nutritional value and their impact on public health were questioned in the media. In the November issue of Admap, Tom Roach explains that the coverage led to a period of falling sales when even some of its most loyal customers were turned off the brand.

In order to put things right, the business introduced more healthy options on the menu - such as porridge for breakfast - and reduced the fat, salt and sugar content of its products. It then increased investment in staff training and jettisoned the bright red and yellow plastic décor of its restaurants in favor of softer greens, purples, wood and contemporary furniture.

McDonald's advertising had traditionally centered on rewarding customers with affordable prices and stimulating them with exciting new products. To these the business now added two new roles for brand communications: enlighten customers about the food and the company's behaviour, and remind them why they once fell in love with McDonald's.

The campaign helped to bring about dramatic shifts in all the key brand-image measures - and most importantly in customers' trust in, and affinity towards, the brand. 'Each of the five successive years from 2007 was a record-breaking sales year and McDonald's growth far exceeded that of the market, which was mostly flat over this period,' says Tom Roach. 'McDonald's has now experienced 25 consecutive quarters of growth, in stark relief to the stagnation of 2002-2006.'

These examples show that marketing directors cannot be held responsible for everything that goes wrong at a company. Nevertheless, when mistakes or problems occur, marketing has a clear role to play in putting things right, reassuring the public and preserving the long-term reputation of the brand.