How 3 big-name brands used TV campaigns to bounce back from reputation crises
When a crisis hits, no matter its nature, it can be devastating for a brand, taking a toll on its reputation and the profitability of the company. This year, companies like WeWork, Johnson & Johnson and Boeing took serious hits to their brand images, and the success (or failure) of their subsequent brand crisis response plans has yet to be understood. But if we look just a little further back, we find plenty of examples of modern brand crises that serve as guideposts to others regarding what it takes to preserve, restore and even boost a brand’s reputation following a serious public lashing.
Over the past three years, brands including Facebook, Uber and Chipotle have not only survived major crises, but for the most part are now thriving. That’s no small feat, and it’s no accident either. Although each brand crisis presents unique challenges and warrants a multi-faceted response, it’s interesting to note the common elements of successful mitigation approaches:
1. Acknowledgment of a brand’s missteps
2. Articulation of how things will be made right
3. Complementing the response with strong branding activity
4. Allocation of real resources behind the message
5. Humanization of the brand
Above all, Facebook, Uber and Chipotle recognized the need to get back to their brand cores following their crises and place greater emphasis on building emotional, rather than purely rational, connections. Let’s look at how each brand employed the above principles to help change public opinion and rehabilitate their image.
Facebook: Maintaining status quo
After a series of scandals rocked Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg went in front of Congress to testify about the social media platform’s data and privacy policies in April 2018. Two weeks after Zuckerberg testified, Facebook launched its “Here Together” TV campaign, acknowledging the many things that had gone wrong in people’s newsfeeds and promising a change. Importantly, the company understood that it needed to allocate real spend in terms of getting its message to the U.S. Over a period of 12 weeks, the company invested in its largest TV campaign to date: $67.8 million spent on 3,713 airings and 1.9 billion impressions, according to iSpot.tv data. As a result, despite the trending hashtag #DeleteFacebook, daily active users remained relatively unaffected. Ultimately, Facebook’s massive investment (and passive mea culpa) helped the company continue “as is” from a revenue perspective leading into the fourth quarter of 2018, which delivered Facebook’s highest quarterly revenues to date.
Uber: Regaining trust
Uber’s crisis-response plan triumphed due to its heavy emphasis on acknowledging its missteps and detailing how things would be made right. In response to continual scandals surrounding Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, who resigned in June 2017, Uber released its “Moving Forward” TV campaign that emphasized the company’s new direction under new leadership. Uber followed this up immediately with a branding campaign entitled, “Doors Are Always Opening.” In total, Uber spent $126 million on TV ads between these two campaigns in 2018. The "Moving Forward" TV campaign, coupled with the subsequent branding campaign, helped spur an average 10 percent growth in both users and trips over the three quarters that the campaigns were live.
Chipotle: Brand building and driving sales
Chipotle is the king of humanizing its brand, especially in the face of a brand crisis. In a span of just five months (October 2015 to February 2016), Chipotle restaurants were linked to two separate E. coli outbreaks. Unlike the above brands, Chipotle didn’t respond directly to the outbreaks through TV advertising. However, in April 2017, the company launched its first national TV initiative since 2012, designed to change consumer perceptions of the brand by focusing on its fresh ingredients and, in later campaigns, the employees who prepare them.
Since its initial 2017 campaign, Chipotle has increased its TV investment each year, with a particular spike in 2019 spending that reflects a 178 percent increase versus the same time period in 2018. The results speak for themselves: Aided by its heavy investments in national TV branding campaigns since April 2017, Chipotle’s first half 2019 revenues were up around 50 percent compared to revenues in the first half of 2016, when the brand was in the midst of the second E. coli outbreak and the immediate customer fallout.
It’s interesting to note the significant role that TV advertising played in all three of the above response plans, regardless of whether the company was trying to regain consumer trust or reignite sales. No matter how much a brand in crisis is crucified on social media channels these days, it’s become clear that increased TV advertising represents a key strategy that enables brands to quickly find mass reach while also leaning on TV’s emotional engagement to build (or rebuild) brand love and trust, influence perception and effectively tell a story.
Of course, true resonance with consumers requires more than just budget—it requires authenticity. So don’t just throw dollars at TV when a crisis hits. Ensure those dollars are backing a strategy that acknowledges your brand’s missteps, tells people how you’re going to make it right and, above all, follows through with real brand action.