What other brands can learn from Cheerios' transparent, direct recall response

Cheerios wasted no time getting information out across various platforms.

General Mills voluntarily recalled more than 1.8 million boxes of gluten-free Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios on Monday, and as the news spread like wildfire through digital and social channels, the powerhouse cereal brand didn’t miss a beat with its crisis comms response, explaining the situation to consumers and media.

The company issued a press release, posting a link to it on its corporate homepage, but even more valuable is the fact that a Cheerios executive quickly penned a blog about the situation. Jim Murphy, SVP and president of General Mills’ cereal division, posted the blog just minutes after the release was published.

"As president of General Mills’ cereal business, I am embarrassed and truly sorry to announce today that we are recalling boxes of Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios produced on several dates at our Lodi, California facility," he wrote.  

The recall was necessary for health measures because wheat was detected in boxes of the gluten-free cereal produced in July. 

Murphy added in the post that General Mills recognizes its failure in serving the gluten-free community and it "instituted additional flour handling protocols at all facilities to ensure this will not happen again."

Adding a personal feel to a crisis by having a high-level brand executive write a blog is a clever comms response tactic, especially when dealing with a product that is popular among kids. Parents tend to be very protective of their children, so a recall that can put their kids’ lives in danger is a serious matter and has to be handled with care. By going a step beyond the traditional press release or simple media statement, it made Cheerios look transparent, regretful, and caring.

The 74-year-old brand tweeted a link to Murphy’s blog, along with a post displaying detailed recall instructions. As of Friday morning, the tweet was still pinned to the top of its page. General Mills retweeted both posts from its own handle on Monday.

The brand also amplified its efforts on social media as it took the time to engage worried consumers. Cheerios – listed as one of NewsCred’s 25 most influential content marketing brands of 2015 – posted information and a photo regarding the recall on Facebook on Monday. The post, which was shared more than 4,200 times, received hundreds of comments, many from concerned parents. Not only did Cheerios respond to each comment, it personalized the replies rather than copying and pasting a generic apology statement.

When it comes to brand-consumer relationships, transparency and one-on-one engagement are key, which makes individualized content more important than ever. In fact, nearly half (48%) of respondents in a Taylor Nelson Sofres study from last spring think it’s important for brands to create original Web content, 16% of which said it gives consumers a personal connection with the company.

Additionally, consumers want brands to help them make their lives easier, according to the American Well-Being Study from Edelman Wellness 360 from April. The research showed that 65% of consumers say brands could be doing even more to facilitate their quest for a stress-free, self-affirming life. And 85% of respondents said they would buy from companies that "effectively engage in well-being."

With a product recall crisis staring it right in the face, Cheerios made smart judgments with its response. It has been transparent from the beginning, and, by making all necessary resources easily and quickly accessible – while also showing the brand’s human, compassionate side – it was able to avoid further social media backlash and retain loyal fans – and that’s what really matters.

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