Take horse crisis with pinch of salt

So suddenly, unwittingly, we Brits - always curiously sentimental in our animal preferences - have become a nation of horse eaters.

Ian Monk: "Long-term damage to individual brand reputation looks containable- especially if we can blame the foreigners."
Ian Monk: "Long-term damage to individual brand reputation looks containable- especially if we can blame the foreigners."

The discovery that the meat content of seemingly every other beef burger consumed contained horse flesh has spawned great gags - plus a reputational crisis for household-name food retailers.

Brand custodians at Tesco, Findus, Aldi etc may not feel inclined to titter at jokes like: 'Would you like anything on your burger? Yes - a fiver each way.'

And yet it may well be that a dash of humour could provide a lifeline in a grim comms challenge.

There are signs too that mixing in a spoonful of traditional xenophobia may offer a more palatable way out of a grotesque situation than too many mea culpas.

As the crisis escalates, references to dodgy foreigners and the EU are proliferating, with rafts of media coverage focusing on the roles of our ancient and modern betes noir of France and Romania.

Zut alors! Tonnes of the bogus beef came from French suppliers and processors. Meanwhile not only are the Romanians planning to invade Britain with a wave of EU-inspired immigration, but the burghers of Bucharest are now held responsible for swamping our supermarkets with beefburgers packed with horsemeat.

Horseburgers are the greatest scandal in British food safety since the 'mad cow' hysteria 20 years ago.

Then the award for the crassest PR stunt of the decade went to agriculture minister John Gummer. He was pictured with his daughter eating a beefburger.

At least this time around, food minister David Heath had the sense to decline a Sunday newspaper's blandishments to pose with a Findus lasagne.

Still there have been comms errors of delay and a reluctance to admit the scale of the deception of consumers. Immense work remains to be done in restoring brand trust. And yet long-term damage to individual supermarket brand reputations looks containable - especially if we can blame the foreigners.

So why the long faces? Because we found horsemeat in our burgers. Boom boom!

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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