public relations Archives - Harris Social Media

FritoLay SunChips packaging debacle: A lesson in when not to listen to your customers?

on Oct 07 in branding, business, facebook, public relations, social media posted by

SunChips’ 100% compostable bag was withdrawn over protests it was too “noisy”SunChips is well-known and to some beloved brand produced by food giant FritoLay (a subsidiary of PepsiCo).

When the company introduced a new compostable package for the chips a few months ago, it was playing its part as a responsible corporate citizen. The idea was that users could compost the package. It would decompose and therefore be more environmentally friendly than traditional plastic packaging.

But a slip up in the market research department (I infer) resulted in flurry of protests from die-hard fans of the old FritoLay package. The problem, it seems, was the the new package was “noisier” than the old one.

But being “the world’s first 100 percent biodegradable chip packet” was not enough to stop close to 50,000 Facebook members (48,638 at the time of writing) “Liking” a Community page called “SORRY BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUN CHIPS BAG.” The page’s info states: “The new Sun Chips bags are so fucking loud.”

Several other groups were set up in protest of the noisy bags (numbers indicate each Page’s Likes at the time of writing):

On FritoLay’s own SunChips Fan page, 94 posts complained about the noise made by the new bags. 

Complaints included:

Flustered by the protests, FritoLay reversed course for most of their SunChips flavors. The SunChips Facebook Fan page stated it would retain compostable bags for the “original” SunChips brand. However, there was no mention of the widely reported decision to withdraw compostable bags for other flavors.

FritoLay has landed itself in big social media doo-doo.

After peeing off a lot of customers with a poor bag design, their confusing semi-reversal has set off a firestorm of protests.

Many SunChips fans evidently felt the new bags were at least headed in the right direction for helping the environment. The SunChips Facebook Fan page is being bombarded (as I write) with angry posts about the company’s apparent weakness in the face of vocal chip eaters. It seems that caving in to the complaints about mere noise set off the tirades.

Posts range from the furious and angry to disillusioned and sarcastic.

  • Héloïse Marinier … Not going to buy anymore Sun Chips you can count on that— maybe I won’t purchase ANY PepsiCo products any longer. Boo Ya.
  • Alain Fauteux Way to go priorities !! noise pollution over Earth pollution we must be a bunch of fat lazy complainning sissy’s
  • Julie Broyles I will not purchase ANY sun chips so long as the company is producing ANY non-compostable bags to appease to those annoyed by noisy bags.
  • Mary Roe I can’t believe that Sun Chips is changing bags because of noise and not staying with their sustainable practice thinking. It will cost you a lot of customers I predict
  • Amanda Santilli Who gives a flying fuck if the bag is noisy?!?!?! I would rather have a noisy bag and a healthier planet than a quieter bag and sick planet.

And yesterday, another Facebook Page has been set up: Bring back the loud Sunchips bag with the Information box stating the Page was “Founded: the day frito lay folded to idiot consumers who care more about the volume of thieir chips than the state of our planet”

So it seems this was a situation where FritoLay shouldn’t have listened (not a pun!) to the initial complaints about the noisy bags. Rather than ameliorating a packaging problem, in trying to respond, FritoLay has created more problems.

The company’s decision (1) divided its SunChip consumers into two opposing camps, (2) sabotaged its own efforts to be an environmentally sensitive good corporate citizen and (3) received a lot of bothersome press coverage over the issue.

In particular the mainstream press picked up on the Facebook activity:

Now that’s some noise to worry about!

Dealing with negativity in social media

on Mar 23 in branding, business, marketing, public relations, social media, strategy posted by

To make their point, protestors co-opted the logo of one of Nestle’s best known brands. In my experience, the most challenging aspect of actually implementing a social media program is dealing with negativity. You can never be quite sure what the response is going to be.

Look at the backlash on Nestlé’s Facebook page. That’s the sort of PR you don’t want.

But there are best practices for dealing with negativity. These can go a long way to dealing with its impact. The Nestlé incident is a clear example of how NOT to deal with negativity.

My guess is that Nestlé took the cheap option and hired a novice to manage their Facebook page. Now it’s costing them vastly more than if they had hired someone competent in the first place.

So how could they have handled it differently? Their initial mistake was to criticize the person who was asking about the Greenpeace video (which got all this started). One comment called the response a “particularly indiscreet sense of arrogance.”

Instead, the Facebook Fan page manager should have acknowledged the user’s concerns. The manager could have admitted to the user that they had a right to expect the highest standards from a company such as Nestlé. He could have mentioned that Nestlé is not perfect, but always striving to improve. 

The most powerful tactic is to actually admit a mistake: “We’re sorry about sourcing palm oil from illegally logged Indonesian rainforests. We’re trying to figure out what went wrong and put it right.” And so on. A conciliatory tone would have been much less likely to invoke the huge backlash that now is simply a cringe-worthy embarrassment for the food giant.

Another ploy is just to wait and see. An immediate reaction might not be called for, especially when there is a risk of getting things out of hand. It’s always possible members of the community will come to your defense. Indeed one or two lonely voices are doing that on Nestlé’s Facebook page, but too little, too late.

The second mistake Nestlé made (and continues to make) is refusing to engage on Facebook following the initial flub. Now their official Facebook page looks more like a protest page, bombarded with negative comments. Many of these expand the scope of the company’s misdeeds.

When you’re talking to clients about the need for professional management of their social media program, you need to convince them to invest in training and hiring the appropriate expertise.

Incidences of negativity can be useful in your sales pitch. But you don’t want to go too far and put the client off social media altogether!

Is PR Dead?

on Sep 25 in business, public relations, social media, trends posted by

Coming up for air from the PR world (after an exciting year spent at Capstrat, a PR firm in Raleigh), I now have the chance to pause and reflect on the role of social media in public relations. 

What I realize now, more than while I was immersed in day-to-day PR is that the industry is being challenged in unprecedented ways. You see, PR is about controlling the message. PR dedicates its messaging to showing a brand or issue in the best possible light. It does this by using words and images that evoke a particular feeling or response.

Thus, the PR approach is to control the message. Make people think what you want them to think. It’s all about perception. But social media is moving the goal posts.

In traditional PR, you pitch a story and if you’re lucky, might get free coverage in a newspaper or TV channel. With social media you can distribute your story at practically no cost in whatever online channel best suits the message. If you get the messaging right, it will be picked up, spread virally and reach potentially millions. No luck required. You control the message.

In PR, your story is taken by the media and presented how they want, at the time they want. With social media, you control the channel (e.g., use a blog for text, YouTube for video or podcast for audio) and the timing. You’re in control.

There are many other ways traditional PR is being challenged by social media. But my observation is that most PR firms are seeing social media as a form of advertising. They rarely think about it as a challenge to their core business. PR firms that “get it” and who are willing to completely change their business model are the ones who are more likely to survive. If PR as we know it isn’t actually dead, many of the PR firms that rely on the traditional business models will be soon.