The days leading up to Super Bowl Sunday were a nightmare for Newell Brands, maker of the iconic Crock-Pot, thanks to an unexpected crisis triggered by a TV drama that involved a make-believe death caused by a Crock-Pot. Following is a closer look at how a fictional event caused a real-life problem for a $13 billion business – and how quick thinking contained the problem.
The show, This is Us, an emotional drama that follows the generational story of the Pearson family, took television by storm in the fall of 2016. The series averages about 15 million viewers a week in the coveted 18-49 year old demographic. Spoiler alert: in one of the episodes, the family’s beloved father, Jack, suffers a heart attack as a result of a massive smoke inhalation caused by a house fire. On January 23, during the episode “That’ll Be the Day,” viewers learned what caused the fire in the first place: a Crock-Pot.
Viewers watched as an elderly neighbor delivered a used Crock-Pot to the young, newly married Pearson couple. The neighbor said that the Crock-Pot’s power switch was a little temperamental but assured them that they would still be able to enjoy some good family meals. Flash forward to years later as the couple, now with teen-aged children, celebrate the Super Bowl. The show ends with Jack turning off the Crock-Pot switch before going to bed. A spark flashes from the faulty switch, igniting a fire, and the house quickly becomes engulfed in flames.
As I watched that episode with my husband, the marketing gears in my head immediately started turning. I thought about the backlash that Crock-Pot would be facing as it was revealed the product was responsible for the beloved character’s death. I told my husband that I hoped Crock-Pot’s PR team would immediately start working on a plan to offset any damage incurred by the revelation. I suggested they flood social media with a response ASAP so as to minimize the negative impact. It was then I realized that we could very personally be affected by this unforeseen series of events: my husband is employed by the company that owns Crock-Pot, Newell Brands.
By the next day, Crock-Pot was headlining news stories:
And while it may seem silly to think the death of a fictional TV character could cause such a hardship for a long-established household brand, the facts were hard to dispute. People were tweeting about throwing away their Crock-Pots. The safety of the product was called into question. The value of Newell Brands stock fell by 24 percent, and the loss was immediately linked by many to the Crock-Pot fire disaster. In reality, the stock plunge occurred after Newell Brands announced disappointing guidance for 2018. But nonetheless the brand was under attack after a perceived safety hazard.
Newell Brands Takes Action
The Crock-Pot communication/social team immediately jumped into action. For instance, the brand worked to restore trust in its product by releasing a statement. Here is an excerpt:
For nearly 50 years with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible.
(The full statement is available here.)
Crock-Pot quickly created its first ever Twitter Account “CrockPotCares,” engaging with concerned consumers as the social media storm continued to ignite. While all of these responses were appropriate and wise measures to take, Crock-Pot knocked it out of the park when the brand teamed up with NBC and Milo Ventimiglia (who portrays Jack in the TV show) to create a hilarious new promo ad for the show’s much anticipated Super Bowl episode February 4.
In what appears to be a political ad, Milo starts off in a somber tone speaking about how the country is divided and how we need to come together. As he continues to talk about forgiveness, the camera pans to him scooping up a bowl of chili from, you guessed it . . . a Crock-Pot! The brilliant ad ends with a black screen with the Crock-Pot logo and the hashtag #CrockPotIsInnocent.
On February 3, after the promo ad was shown, digital content engagement around Crock-Pot increased by 84 percent, and there were nearly 2,000 tweets using the hashtag #CrockPotIsInnocent, with sentiment around that hashtag being 57 percent positive — the most common sentiment being that it was hilarious and a brilliant promotion for Crock-Pot.
Lessons learned? If a well-established brand such as Crock-Pot can incur such negative consequences from a fictional TV storyline, it should be a warning to every company about the importance of having a solid strategy in place to combat such challenges. Reach customers quickly through social channels and look for a unique way to re-establish your brand’s positive image. Time is of the essence — so act fast! In a matter of a few days, Crock-Pot succeeded in turning a PR nightmare into a successful restoration of trust in its brand.