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McDonald’s Drinking Glass Recall: Crisis Response and Opportunity

McDonald’s recent voluntary recall of 12 million tainted “Shrek”-themed drinking glasses for children illustrates a fundamental rule of crisis communications: crises can bring opportunities, particularly when you have a crisis plan in place and act on it decisively.

That’s what McDonald’s did when it found out that the glasses contained a potentially dangerous level of cadmium, a known carcinogen. A caller had contacted Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) to inform her of the problem. Within hours of the swift recall, McDonald’s – a regular target for critics of childhood obesity – was being cited positively for its rapid response:

McDonald’s not only scored points with the media, analysts, regulators and consumer watchdogs by quickly recalling the glasses, it also scored points with customers by immediately providing a coupon worth more than the value of the Shrek glasses to anyone who had purchased them. In one fell swoop they not only acted responsibly, they found a way to strengthen brand loyalty.

What’s important to note is that the coupon offer came across as a magnanimous make-good only because the recall was voluntary, swift and successful, before anyone had been reported adversely affected. Had the offer been made AFTER a call from regulators, or after ill-effects had been reported among children, it could have smacked of a clumsy patch up.

The lesson for crisis managers is what we at CommCore counsel our clients: 1. Have a crisis plan for your operations. 2. Gather the team quickly when a crisis occurs. 3. Assess and respond as appropriate. Then look at whether a brand-strengthening “opportunity” exists that is appropriate. In this case the McDonald’s opportunity was a direct result of their speedy action; had they been responding to a federal recall order or to reports of stricken children long after the glasses had been in circulation, that would have been another situation entirely.

What do you think of the McDonald’s response? What are your views on using a crisis response to solidify a brand?