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Rogue employee at Pizza Hut creates plenty of bad press February 21, 2014

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A regional manager of several West Virginia Pizza Hut franchises created some pretty bad press for his company recently, after being spotted in a surveillance video urinating in a sink in the food prep area. The video leaked in February and went viral quickly. The employee was seen using a computer before stepping up to the sink behind him and relieving himself. He turned on the faucet briefly, presumably to “flush.” It took little time for the manager to be fired, and Pizza Hut released the following statement:

“Pizza Hut has zero tolerance for violations of our operating standards, and the local owner of the restaurant took immediate action and terminated the employee involved. While the isolated incident occurred during non-business hours and did not involve any food tampering, we follow strict safety and handling procedures and the restaurant has since been closed. We apologize to our customers of Kermit, West Virginia and those in our system who have been let down by this situation.”

Rogue employees like the manager in this incident aren’t all that unusual, and they pose serious dangers for big business. A Burger King employee from Cleveland created similar news stories in 2012 after posting photos of himself standing in buckets of lettuce.  Another Burger King employee was caught bathing in his restaurant’s sink in 2008. Domino’s Pizza was also caught in an embarrassing episode in 2009, after a few employees at one franchise posted video of themselves putting cheese in their nose and rubbing sandwiches on their private parts.

For more on the latest episode involving Pizza Hut, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Are companies to blame for the actions of their rogue employees?

2.  Was Pizza Hut’s response to the latest story of a rogue employee sufficient in repairing its image? Why, or why not?

3.  How has the internet era (especially after the development of social media and modern mobile technology) exacerbated the problem of rogue employees?

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Big food companies try to get kid friendly January 26, 2014

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Almost 20 big food companies recently announced that they were adopting a new system that would make it easier to compare food values across products and brands. The group included the Campbell Soup Co., General Mills, Kellogg, Pepsi, Kraft, and many others. The companies also announced that products that couldn’t be in compliance would either be cut or not be advertised to kids. The move follows an effort by the group to cut sugar and other harmful ingredients to make them more kid friendly.

The self-regulation efforts by big food companies has been seen, too, in McDonald’s. The company recently announced that it would not (and has not for the most part) marketed to kids in schools, and even signed an agreement with the Clinton Foundation concerning how it would market soda products with Happy Meals.

For more on efforts to cut back on food products and their ads targeting kids, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why is the food industry engaging in so much self regulation concerning products traditionally targeting kids? What’s at stake if this self regulation does not happen?

2.  Is self regulation enough? Can big food companies prevent federal regulation of products traditionally targeting kids?

3.  Why food ads targeting kids so controversial? Why are they considered unethical by certain critics?

Food-sourcing themes in contemporary advertising September 21, 2013

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A new theme is going front and center lately in advertising for food products. Companies are reacting to consumer sensitivity about the origins of their food by highlighting the sources of their ingredients. In this case, “local,” “organic,” and “fair-trade” are all god terms.

While this trend is not necessarily new, Chipotle has proven the approach is valuable by launching two super-produced animated advertisements over the last few years highlighting their responsibly raised beef, pork, and chicken. Both have gone viral, and won praise from critics. Starbucks, too, is releasing a series of ads to highlight the origins of their coffee beans. The new “origins” campaign features documentary-style footage of plantations and local farmers, even following some of the individual workers to put a face on the people behind the legendary coffee. The campaign is similar to one running overseas, and is bound to create rich identification between consumers and the Starbucks brand.

For examples of the “food-sourcing theme” in recent food advertising, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What is cognitive dissonance, and what does it have to do with “food-sourcing”?

2.  How do the ads above attempt to lower cognitive dissonance for consumers?

3.  How are these ads different from other ads that simply highlight the quality of a company’s ingredients? More specifically, how do these ads attempt to address issues of ethics in the food business?

Taco Bell crowd-sources for new Doritos Locos Taco ad campaign August 24, 2013

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Taco Bell is releasing a third flavor of Doritos Locos Tacos. In developing an advertising campaign, it decided to look to YouTube. Taco Bell consumers would have the power to develop the ad campaign, as they did for the other flavors. Contributors were not paid, but many were flown to Los Angeles to use production facilities, equipment, and actors. What followed were 65 submissions, 15 chosen for the trip to LA, and several online videos with millions of views. No surprise: fans loved the campaign. Tens of thousands of tweets shared the ads during a roughly three-week period, and the campaign is making headlines.

For samples of the ads posted to YouTube, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why might the crowd-sourcing ad campaign by Taco Bell be more powerful than a traditional ad campaign?

2.  A few years ago Taco Bell was in trouble with accusations that its beef wasn’t what they said it was. How has their DLT product line, and ads for it, proven a path for emerging successfully from scandal?

Chipotle and the “adless” brand March 11, 2013

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Big business is almost synonymous with advertising. No so at Chipotle. The company spends just about $6 million per year in national advertising, compared to the $650 spent by McDonald’s and the “meager” $100 spent by Arby’s. According to Jim Edwards from Business Insider, Chipotle has adopted more of a form of “word-of-mouth publicity,” and considers advertising a “risk factor” to its business. In an attempt to avoid ad spending, Chipotle has even managed to do quite well, with sales at $2.3 billion in 2012, a 23 percent increase compared to the year before.

Chipotle hasn’t forgone all advertising, though. The company simply regards traditional marketing irrelevant to its brand. While it purchased time for one ad in 2012, the way the ad came to be shows that Chipotle is a different company. The “Back to the Start” ad began in summer 2011 as a two minute online video featuring a farmer struggling with a corporate farm. To the music of Willie Nelson covering a classic Coldplay song, the farmer changes his ways and reverts his property back to the way he began. The ad was a hit, with millions of views on YouTube. In response to the praise over social media, the company eventually purchased a spot for the ad, its very first on national television.

To see the “Back to the Start” ad yourself, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What is “word of mouth” advertising and how does it work?

2.  Why would executives consider a switch to traditional advertising to be irreversible for Chipotle?

3.  How has Chipotle used social media to make the most of advertising?

Burger King, many others, caught in tainted horse meat scandal February 11, 2013

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Irish beef processor Silvercrest Foods is getting a lot of companies in trouble. Burger King released a statement in February admitting that trace amounts of horse meat were found in its supplier’s beef. The restaurant chain claimed that the contaminated product never reached its own supply, however, declaring: “Our independent DNA tests results on product taken from Burger King restaurants were negative for any equine DNA. However, four samples recently taken from the Silvercrest plant have shown the presence of very small trace levels of equine DNA. This product was never sold to our restaurants.” The company promptly discontinued its relationship with Silvercrest Foods.

Many other companies are now being netted by the same scandal. UK firm Findus, a maker of a popular lasagna, has announced that tests show that many of its beef products contained 60% to 100% horse meat. Findus is pulling many of its products, and has assured consumers that the horse meat, if consumed, is not hazardous.

For more on the horse meat contamination in Europe, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How do recalls hurt a company’s image?

2.  What must a company do to repair its image after a major product recall?

3.  Are companies like Burger King hurt by such a scandal, despite not serving the contaminated meat?

KFC has a kidney problem January 28, 2013

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Back at the beginning of January 2013, The Huffington Post reported on a 19-year-old student from the UK who bit into a piece of fried chicken from KFC only to find something resembling a wrinkled brain. The student, Ibrahim Longoo, was immediately disgusted. He stated, “I threw it down onto my tray immediately. It looked like a brain. I suddenly felt grim and really sick. I couldn’t bring myself to pick the lump up so I went to the serving counter to complain. It was about 1pm and pretty hectic in the restaurant and as it was so busy none of the staff helped me.” KFC responded to Langoo, claiming that he bit into a chicken’s kidney (gross, but harmless), and gave him an apology along with vouchers for a free meal.

If only the story stopped there. A few weeks later someone posted to Reddit a picture of something similar. The poster claimed that he peeled back the skin on his chicken dinner, only to find something that “tasted like death.” The post triggered a number of comments from alleged KFC customers who claimed to have identical experiences. By one estimate, there are now roughly 10 additional reports of customers finding chicken kidneys in their orders.

For more on this story, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How has social media made it harder for businesses to maintain a good image?

2.  How could the “kidney problem” hurt KFC’s brand?

3.  How should KFC respond to this growing problem?

Arby’s put on defensive after finger found in boy’s food June 2, 2012

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A Michigan teen in May 2012 had the horrible experience that nobody would ever want. While munching on his roast beef sandwich, he found a particular piece especially chewy. Upon spitting up his bite, he discovered an inch long piece of a finger. Health inspectors confirmed the story, after learning that an employee had cut her finger earlier in the week, but hadn’t told anyone. The restaurant was immediately closed for cleaning.

Since the incident, Arby’s has been on the defensive my expressing its apologies to the boy. Moreover, an Arby’s spokesperson stated that they had been “in touch with its nationwide network of restaurants to reinforce training and safety protocols for our 66,000 employees.” However, many crisis communication analysts are claiming that the fast food may not be doing enough to control the story.

For more on the incident, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How might the single incident in Michigan hurt the reputation of Arby’s? What was especially controversial about the incident?

2.  How should companies respond to similar incidents?

3.  Will Arby’s be harmed by the incident in Michigan? Why, or why not?

PepsiCo’s defense in Mountain Dew mouse trial backfires when story goes viral January 17, 2012

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In response to a 2009 lawsuit alleging that a man drank a can of Mountain Dew containing a dead mouse, lawyers for parent company PepsiCo argued that if true then the acid from the soda would have transformed the rodent into a “jelly-like substance.” The claim disputes the man’s observation that the mouse was fresh looking. PepsiCo’s lawyers elaborated that after just seven days the mouse “would have no calcium in its bones and bony structures” and that its “abdominal structure will rupture.” Additionally, the lawyers noted, “its cranial is also likely to rupture within that time period,” meaning that the mouse would have been unrecognizable since the complainant downed a can bottled 74 days before it was opened.

While the defense was based on interesting scientific studies, its disgusting imagery has made the story go viral, thus perhaps doing more damage to the Mountain Dew brand.

For more on the story, watch the first part of the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Is PepsiCo’s defense convincing? Why, or why not?

2.  How does PepsiCo’s defense simultaneously hurt the Mountain Dew brand?

3.  How should PepsiCo respond now that the story of the lawsuit has gone viral?

Domino’s continues chain of ads based on product-improvement, responsibility March 19, 2011

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Since the beginning of 2010, when Domino’s reinvented itself and unveiled its new pizza, the company has been running a series of ads acknowledging its past failures and accepting the responsibility of improving its products. The strategy was considered risky at first, but marketers realized that Domino’s was able to turn heads by staying away from the same “new and improve” language and embracing instead, “We failed.” Targeting consumers who had bad experiences with Domino’s, as well as those who never had an excuse to try its pizza, the advertisements have been an amazing success. The company’s domestic same-store sales grew 9.9 percent in 2010, and its international sales grew 6.9 percent.

To see the original advertisement, and a newer version, watch the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Is Domino’s newest series of ads claiming responsibility especially persuasive in a time of economic strife? If so, then why?

2.  Have other companies used a similar strategy in the past?

3.  Which other fast food companies could benefit from an image makeover similar to that of Domino’s? Could the same strategy work as well for Taco Bell following accusations that its beef is of lower quality? Why, or why not?