Cinnamon Toast Crunch replied, saying “We’re sorry to see what you found! We would like to report this to our quality team and replace the box. Can you please send us a DM to collect more details? Thanks!”
As Cabrera says, “what matters in this instance is food safety and quality,” and that’s the message that the company moved toward in subsequent communications.
Any personal private response to Karp should have asked what sort of resolution or response he was looking for, says Denise Lee Yohn, a brand leadership expert and the author of the books “What Great Brands Do” and “Fusion: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World's Greatest Companies.”
“Even if the company would not do what he wanted, they would at least understand what it would take for his concerns to be assuaged and be able to issue an appropriate response,” she says.
Also, public messages from the company shouldn’t have challenged or refuted Karp’s claims, says Yohn. “Regardless of whether or not there was any real basis for his claims, it’s the perception that matters,” she says. “People trust other people more than they trust companies – and they don’t like when companies seem to be bullying or diminishing other people.”
Before firing back, take the time to think things through, say experts.
That first public response came too quickly, says Gene Grabowski, partner at Washington, D.C.-based public relations and public affairs firm Kglobal. “It’s very corporate and it’s very knee-jerk,” and consumers are fed up with corporate-speak, he says. “They want to hear real people talking and corporations still haven’t learned how to do that.”
What would Grabowski have suggested in that initial moment, what he calls the golden hour?
The team should have thought through the possible scenarios, including whether Karp is seeking publicity, whether it’s a setup, or whether the product was tampered with at some point before it reached Karp’s bowl. Grabowski, who has managed communications for more than 200 food and consumer product recalls, says when it comes to items found in food, in his estimation, about one-third of these things are hoaxes. “Of those that are real, very few of them are from the factory because of quality control,” he says.
Grabowski suggested a potential reply that he thinks may have struck a better tone.
“I would have responded: ‘Wow! If this is true, we really want to get to the bottom of this. We’re so sorry, please send us the box and the bag, we need to take a look at this because, like you, we want to get to the bottom of this.”