Tim Youngman: The horsemeat scandal – PR and brand opportunity?

Butcher George Debman has benefited from the horsemeat scandal.

Butcher George Debman has benefited from the horsemeat scandal. - Credit: Archant

WHILE tax avoidance creates a certain level of emotion in people the thought that you might have been eating horse, well that’s another story.

The horsemeat scandal has created brand issues way above what was seen last year. People still bought Christmas presents through Amazon while tutting at what tax they had just helped them avoid. The thought that you might have eaten something you thought was beef and actually could propel you to glory at Newmarket, different matter.

The two areas that I have found most interesting is how those affected companies have reacted and what those outside of the scandal are doing to capitalise on it. While most of the supermarkets have been affected and long standing brands like Findus have borne the brunt, I want to focus on the reaction from Tesco for the first part of my interest.

From an online point of view, Tesco has taken the brunt of the mentions regarding this scandal. It has far outstripped the other supermarkets and even Findus in online news coverage and social media mentions. With this in mind it probably has the biggest mountain the climb to regain the potential knock to its consumer confidence. What it has done so far though has been quick and effective.

Rather than spreading the blame everywhere but themselves, they apologised quickly and announced investigations. This was quickly followed by a series of announced measures clearly communicated to its consumers especially online through email. This communication was personalised and came from the top, all from the group chief executive, not delivered from an unknown Tesco PR person.

The last email sent to me as a clubcard holder came with the clear concise, and in my opinion, excellent subject line “we are changing”. In it they once again admitted guilt and outlined simply and clearly the range of measures they are putting in place to stop this happening again. Compare this to how Starbucks handled the tax avoidance scandal and you have a case study in how to do it well compared to how to do it badly.

The next area of interest is what those outside of the scandal are doing to capitalise on it. The big winners from this are, and will be, local food producers, especially your local butcher. My own local butcher, Archers, has already seen a rise in trade as people move to a source they can trust. Our papers are full of similar stories which personally I find extremely encouraging.

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However the ability to truly maximise this opportunity I hope that local butchers take some time to think about how they market themselves.

Are they actively promoting providence of their meat, even if it’s simply a blackboard with the farms where it comes from are listed? Are they using this as a way to build a bigger database of customers, especially email addresses, that they can then build an ongoing relationship with? Why not give an offer in return for customer details so people have a reason to share and then send them newsletters with competitions, special offers and even recipes giving these new customers more reasons not to go back to the supermarkets?

It’s not just butchers that can capitalise on the current shift in consumer mood. All local food producers should now be sitting down and thinking how they can make the most of this situation and grow their own businesses. With some thought and effort they can now tap into an opportunity and as they say “every little helps”.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant follow on Twitter @timyoungman