Lipton : A Lesson in Rumour Management – Views From Prabhakar

Earlier this month a mis-informed consumer  threatened to damage the 125 year reputation of Lipton, when she claimed to have found worms in Lipton Lemon Green Tea bags and then uploaded a video on social media.

Lipton reacted swiftly to the video by putting out an informational video again on social media and  responding to the complaint in the shortest possible period of time,  quelling a dangerous rumour that could have harmed the brand.

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“There are no worms in  Lipton Lemon Green tea bags. They are flavour pieces, which dissolve in hot water,” a video released by the company through the social media. “These are, in fact, Lipton lemon flavour pieces — you can place the green tea in hot water and watch them (pieces) dissolve. At Lipton, we are committed to providing the highest quality teas,” the spokesperson said.

The company said the food health inspection department of the Dubai municipality which visited  the Lipton Jebel Ali Factory,  had confirmed the quality of their production and processes, and excluded the possibility of any  worms in their products.

Any rumour can grow rapidly taking the shape of the Diffusion Curve proposed by Dr Everett Rogers almost 50 years ago.  Once the  rumour starts, it  moves up very quickly to take the shape of the normal distribution curve.

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Original chart by Dr Everett Rogers.  Improvisations to include rumours by Prabhakar Mundkur

The challenge in rumour management is that unless the rumour is quelled effectively at the ‘innovators’ stage it will start to take an upward turn.  This means that instead of seeing how the curve grows, we need to figure out how to kill the curve quickly in its formative stages. The blue dotted lines in the above graph represent the points at which the graph can be prevented from growing for which positive actions need to be taken for its decline. Once it has passed the ‘early adopters’ stage it would have gained so much momentum that it would become impossible to quell it. In rumour management the emphasis is on how to kill the growth of the curve and bring it back to zero.

Lipton has done a fantastic job of rumour management in this case by killing the rumour quickly and effectively wiping out all doubts about the quality of their products.

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This is a trick that Nestle completely missed out  when they were accused last year of having above permissible levels of MSG in their noodles. The Court finally ruled in favour of Nestlé and overturned the government’s ban on noodles following additional tests from three independent laboratories with lead content well within the permissible limits.  But by that time the brand was off the shelf for several months and  the damage to the brand was fairly permanent, because of the lack of rumour management skills in the company.

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About the Author

Prabhakar Mundkur is an ad veteran with over 35 years of experience in Advertising and Marketing. He works as an independent consultant and is also Chief Mentor with Percept H.

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