Issue: Taco Bell’s insufficient response to rat video compounds earlier e-coli woes
Commentary by: David Vinjamuri
Taco Bell owner Yum Brands this week has found itself on the wrong end of another public health crisis, this one stemming from a video filmed at the Greenwich Village Taco Bell/KFC showing a swarm of rats scurrying around the restaurant. Kate MacArthur at AdAge reports:
No crisis is just a local crisis. The rats running amok at the Greenwich Village eatery were first reported on early-morning TV news by a New York station, WNBC-TV, following a consumer call to its tip line. But by the time Yum Brands put out a statement addressing the issue on its home page and media wires — 2:06 p.m. EST — the stomach-churning video had already raced over the internet and made it to numerous other TV stations.
Taco Bell & Yum’s response to this crisis highlights the problem we have previously addressed with modern crisis management plans: they don’t account for the speed of the Internet and the visceral impact of viral video. The seven hours that passed between the early-morning airing of the video on WNBC and WCBS and Taco Bell’s response allowed the story to run nationally without any expression of regret from the company and made the whole mess look worse.
The response itself was not much more helpful, crafted as it was to stress the isolated nature of the incident and the safety of Taco Bell and KFC cooking in general.
Now, Yum will face further dropoff in Taco Bell business (already down since the e-coli crisis) and continued erosion of the brand. Why? Because Yum has not demonstrated that it really passionately cares about consumers or safety. Showing passion in the response means going beyond dealing with the immediate health issue caused by e-coli or rats and addressing the breach of trust created by this type of adverse event. Taco Bell should have made a more heartfelt statement of distress and then thought carefully about compensation for consumers – what about making the restaurant free for a weekend after reopening?
Just to be absolutely clear, this is our four-step primer for dealing with crises – rodent or otherwise:
To respond effectively to a crisis, brands need to have a plan which can be implemented in a matter of hours. It should include the following steps:
- Accept Responsibility – Even if events subsequently prove that the brand was blameless in an outbreak or tainting scandal (think of the finger found in a Wendyâ€™s salad which was planted by a customer, for instance), stonewalling will hurt the brand. It is far easier to act as if it is a problem youâ€™ve created and take responsibility for making it right. If later events prove the brand was blameless, its ethical reaction to the problem will increase brand loyalty. If it was the companyâ€™s fault then the brand will retain consumers with its forthright, straighforward acceptance of responsibility.
- Protect the Consumer – Closing restaurants or recalling the product early can limit the damage done to the brand. Stubborn refusal to immediately recall their contact lense solution almost cost Bausch & Lomb its entire ReNu franchise.
- Find the Truth – Getting to the bottom of the problem is critical, even if it is not always possible.
- Prevent a Replay – Tylenol returned to the market not when the person who had adulterated the product was apprehended but when Johnson & Johnson could be sure that another person could not do the same thing. This is the best standard for knowing whether its time to step back into the water, and one that Taco Bell has likely failed.
To these we would add “Make Reparations.” Taco Bell needs to clean up and think of a creative way to erase the horror from the minds of its consumers.