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How to repair the damage from a product recall

Relevant topics Archive, Strategy

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    A sound strategy can minimalize or even turn the negative effects of a product recall around.
  • Application:
    Using the power of a multi-channel communication strategy with different level of media richness will minimize the damage your brand has to endure.
  • It’s every company’s worst nightmare: a product recall. Unfortunately, most consumer brands will be pulled out of the store shelves at least once in their lifetime.

    What does a brand stand to do when its frozen pizzas are pulled from the store shelves because it makes people vomit? Sitting with the baked pears (which is a Dutch saying for: to just leave the bad situation as it is), won’t help them. It’s wiser to have a clear post-recall strategy in place, beforehand. But how to devise such a strategy?

    Byun and Dass discovered four powerful behavioral tendencies of different kinds of consumers reacting to a product recall. And more importantly: they’ve conceived strategies how to charm each type of consumer.

    The scientists found out the key issue is how people commit to brands.  Some people commit to brands emotionally (“the brand makes me feel good”), while others do so on more rational grounds (“this brand simply tastes best”). More interestingly, some people even commit on both emotional and rational grounds, while others do on none.

    Boiled down, that gives us:

    1.  Hard Cores, who have high emotional and high
rational commitment. 

    2.  Don’t-Cares, who have low emotional and low rational commitment. 

    3.  Lovers, who have high emotional but low rational commitment. 

    4.  Rationalists, who have high rational but 
low emotional commitment. 

    How to win over different kind of consumers

    Obviously, a product recall will have a negative effect on all groups. Even the most passionate lovers will be a tad disappointed by the bad press and word of mouth following a recall.

    All is not lost however, because Lovers have a stronger negativity resistance than rational consumers. A strong emotional relationship between the brand and the customer shields the brand from the negative effects of a product recall. The love can often be easily recharged with a message containing strong emotion or nostalgia.

    The calculative consumer (hard-cores and rationalists) is a tougher cookie to crack. She has bought the goods for practical reasons, making them sensitive to substitute brands. They will hop over to the next brand without blinking, unless there’s a rational reason to stay put. If possible, it would be wise to stress a brand’s unique selling proposition to put the rational mind to rest.

    Clearly, the three groups need a different message to retain them as loyal buyers. Luckily, different media channels have different effects as to affective relationship or calculative relationship building.

    How to prepare for a product recall

    Channels that have a high visual richness (e.g. Facebook, Instagram or commercials on the telly) will improve the emotional relationship with the consumer. On the other hand, channels with medium to low richness (e.g. print ads, direct mail and informative magazines) help in improving a calculative consumer.

    A smart marketing manager has a well-prepared strategy. Firstly, it’s important to nurture your brand at all times: it’s insurance for when times are tough. When fate strikes and a product is recalled, it’s best to cultivate on that. An extra investment in branding on Facebook and other media channels rich in emotional content will help you to embrace your lovers.

    As for the Hard Cores and Rationalists, their desire for substitute-brands after a product recall highlights two very different strategies. First of all, you could tip the scale to your advantage be stressing there is no substitute, preferably by employing rational media. Secondly, you could make a virtue out of the situation by providing that substitute yourself. This is especially powerful for big consumer conglomerates, who often own many brands within different categories.

    Alternatively, when your competitor’s product is recalled, you now know how and when to strike.


  • How to repair the damage from a product recall
  • Reference:

    Byun, K. A., & Dass, M. (2015). An investigation of the effects of product recalls on brand commitment and purchase intention. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 32(1), 1-14.

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