Case study: Horsemeat: National Crisis Averted
Strategy: Protecting the long-term health of Tesco’s reputation by raising the issue in a credible, newsworthy environment
A bold media strategy, with newspapers at its heart, allowed Tesco to regain the trust of millions of customers.
At the start of 2013, a story hit the news and dominated the headlines for weeks on end: horsemeat had been found in Tesco burgers. It was a story that had the potential to cause significant damage to the UK’s biggest retailer, unless handled with extreme care.
With news of the ‘horsemeat scandal’ spreading, Tesco had no time to waste. Unless the supermarket responded immediately, the long-term health of the business would be at risk. Media would be crucial in guiding that response. Given that newspapers are renowned for raising the issues that matter (and were the medium fuelling the horsemeat story and inciting the public debate), they were at the heart of Tesco’s strategy. With a bold and honest approach, and an ‘always-on’ mentality, the company used newspaper advertising to issue a sincere apology, position Tesco as a thought leader and restore customers’ faith.
Long-copy, full-page colour ad formats were executed across The Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, The Independent, The Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and Daily Express to communicate a complex and detailed message in an impactful way.
In the week following 17 January, Tesco saw a dramatic drop in convenience food sales. However, this could have been the precursor to a much bigger problem for the retailer. As it was, two months on, overall footfall and sales were back in line with previous forecasts, suggesting that disaster was well and truly averted.
The press coverage that Tesco achieved at each stage of the campaign showed that the public was noticing and reacting – in a positive way. Research shows that customers thought Tesco dealt with the crisis better than its competitors and Tesco newspaper ads were considered ‘easy to understand’, ‘informative’ and ‘credible’, while half of the customers Tesco spoke to said it had ‘addressed their concerns’.