Will you survive The Checkout?

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 12:02

For those who've missed it, The Checkout is ABC1's new satirical consumer affairs show, starring Craig Reucassel and Julian Morrow of The Chaser's War on Everything fame.

The show promises to ‘offer unhappy customers a revolutionary new wonder diet of information and entertainment that’s clinically proven and 70% fat free’. What that means in reality is that it explores consumer affairs and attempts to expose and embarrass brands it accuses of breaking or bending consumer laws via a combination of satirical humour and user-generated content.

But what kind of damage can a show like this do to your brand? The answer to this is quite simple: it depends on your response. Here are six key points to keep in mind to protect your brand against this program and others like it:

1)      Be prepared: If The Checkout contacts you before the show for a statement, research the program and then carefully weigh up the pros and cons of responding.

If you don’t respond, will they pull the segment because they don’t have enough material? (Doubtful). Will they openly state that they tried to contact you for a statement and you failed to return their calls? (Probably).

If you do respond, will they twist your words into lies and make you appear in the worst possible light? (That’s a little extreme). Will they probe hard for any holes in your story and make a mockery of your organisation if your response isn’t 100% professional, legitimate and on-brand? (Probably). In short, put yourself in their shoes, understand the show’s objectives and consider how they will use your response to meet their objectives and drive overall audience experience.

2)      Make sure your response is measured: Before you respond, you need to ensure the strength of your response aligns with the size of the risk to your brand. According to OzTam, The Checkout is generally between the 9th and 12th most watched TV programs each night it airs. That means that, for example, on Thursday 25 April it had 740,000 viewers, and on Thursday 18 April it had 902,000 viewers. However, viewership is not the only thing you need to take into account when deciding how best for your brand to respond. Make sure your response matches the size of the alleged threat. Check the response to the segment about your brand on social media. Are people talking about it? What was the length of the segment about your brand? Was it a feature of the show, or a passing reference at the end?

If you did something wrong and you can fix it immediately, do so, and consider contacting the program via email to let them know you’ve resolved the complaint.

If you didn’t do something wrong and feel an immediate need to defend your brand, make sure the strength of your response aligns with the size of the risk of damage to your brand.

3)      Always stay true to your brand. If you have a strong and well-defined brand, your brand positioning will help set the direction of your response. If your brand is irreverent, devise a catchy way to respond boldly and with measured cheek. If your brand has a more corporate style, respond more formally – or possibly, if you’ve effectively weighed up the risks and benefits, don’t respond at all.

4)      Work as a team. Before you respond to any request for information, as always, make sure you adhere to your organisation’s communication protocols. It is more than likely your corporate communications team has an issues management plan that includes holding statements and pre-prepared responses developed with situations like this in mind.

5)      Consider all your target audiences. If you’ve weighed up your options and decided you do need to respond to claims made on the show, make sure you remember all your channels. While a simple holding statement or prepared response on your Facebook page may keep your consumer audience at bay, your trade channels may need additional reassurance, or the confidence that they know what to say if they are questioned by a customer. Consider preparing a statement or fact sheet specifically for trade, or possibly even investors, to reaffirm their commitment to your product and brand.

6)      Understand how the media landscape has changed. In the days of ‘paid-only’ media, the risk of being discovered when your brand and product claims were stacked and stretched were fairly limited. Not so today. With the advent of social media, RSS feeds, blogs and feedback forums your brand’s actions and behaviours are now very public. Who can forget the Nike Asian sweat shop labour rates et al.?  The Checkout is essentially the broadcasting of user-generated content, previously limited to feedback threads on social media - taking it directly into the country’s lounge rooms in prime time. Successful brands and product managers will understand this risk of exposure very clearly and set their product and brand communication strategy accordingly.

Example: Nurofen

Nurofen were featured on The Checkout on Thursday 18 April in a segment entitled ‘Chronic Pain’. The segment ultimately criticised Nurofen’s body part-specific pain relief claims, suggesting the claims were not supported by scientific evidence, and went on to state that Nurofen's associated pricing strategy and product pack information were misleading.

The Checkout contacted Nurofen owner Reckitt Beckinser before the show, and their response was clumsy. Their PR agency provided a statement and said the statement ‘could be attributed to a Reckitt Beckinser representative’. Too tempting an opportunity for The Checkout to turn down: they read the statement verbatim in mockery of both the PR agency and Reckitt Beckinser.

However, once the segment went to air, Nurofen picked up its act.

After the program the response from customers was muted. There was no social media backlash, with only one comment on their Facebook page, and there was no mainstream media follow up.

How did Nurofen respond? Well, it seems it didn’t. The Facebook comment was responded to with a bland statement referring the customer to their website. There was no media statement placed on the Nurofen or Reckitt Beckinser website. Time will tell if sales are affected, but judging by the complete lack of mainstream response to the show’s claims,   it would seem any drop in sales would be limited.

Ultimately, Nurofen played the game like professionals: their response was measured, they had holding statements prepared and they used them (on their Facebook page at least) and the response on social media indicated their whole team was briefed and prepared.

What could they have done differently? Other than improving the professionalism of the pre-broadcast statement, not much. But if they had sought to do more, they could have considered preparing an online fact sheet and optimising for SEO, with the view of owning the top search rankings, ahead of any references to The Checkout segment. They could also have supplied the fact sheet to their trade channels to reassure them and support them in case of questions from consumers. But ultimately, neither of those actions was necessary.

Not all situations will end as smoothly as Nurofen’s. But by staying true to your brand and ensuring your response is measured and professional, shows like The Checkout will struggle to permanently damage the strength of any professional, well-defined and well-established brand.

 * This post was updated after it was posted to correct (and increase) the OzTam viewership figures and the associated commentary, in response to feedback from The Checkout team.