Choco Taco’s retirement: How its comms team quickly pivoted after backlash

Agency partner Edelman shares learnings from the last two weeks.

Stock image of the Choco Taco behind a podium
Instacart searches for Choco Taco went up 30,000% on July 26.

When Unilever decided to retire Klondike’s Choco Taco last month, its communications team had no idea what was about to go down.

In short, America was not okay with the move. It dominated headlines for a week, fans had a meltdown, celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Stephen Colbert as well as congressmen weighed in and consumers raided stores across the country to sell the item on eBay for upwards of $1,000

Klondike had a planned response to ease consumers’ minds and stomachs, but the brand’s comms team realized it had to quickly pivot amid the uproar.  

“Unilever knew there was love for the product, but no one could have anticipated the response we are getting right now,” said Keren Kazam, Edelman EVP of U.S. brand, who works with the ice-cream brand. “Everyone was overwhelmed with the passionate responses we were getting and the cultural zeitgeist that was born from this announcement.”

A team of 10 Edelman staffers is helping to guide social strategy for the brand and its day-to-day earned response, working in collaboration with U-Studio, Unilever’s in-house digital agency. On the agenda: figuring out how to capitalize on the tidal wave of press, including mentions by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Today, Associated Press, CNN and The New Yorker’s daily cartoon.

Edelman global chief creative officer Andrew Simon said the team didn’t immediately want to go into crisis mode.

“We deal with a lot of serious issues at Edelman,” said Simon. “While this is serious for some consumers, at the end of the day it is a moment of levity for culture.”

There has been a wide spectrum of emotion from consumers: some are very angry, while others are accepting the news and recognizing that they can enjoy other Klondike products, he said.

“We wanted to see this as it is, which is an opportunity to remind people about how much they love the product and the wonders of Klondike overall, but in a natural, organic sense,” Simon said. “We wanted to turn lemons into lemonade and make something that is befitting the brand.”

Kazam said the team wanted to make the response playful and ensure it was consistent with the Klondike brand and tone of voice.

On July 28, the brand updated fans on next steps, making clear that is no stunt: Choco Tacos are really being discontinued. However, last week, the brand tweeted that it could return to ice-cream trucks.

Later that day, Klondike posted an open call on Twitter and Instagram to consumers to share their ideas for what to do with the remaining 912 Choco Tacos.

The brand got considerably more suggestions than it expected, including producing a Choco Taco musical and distributing products during the intermission, as well as serving them to guests at a camp-themed wedding.

“We are deciding what we are going to do; we may use one or multiple ideas from consumers,” said Simon.

Klondike doesn’t have a deadline for picking a winning idea; it could take anywhere from a few days to a weeks to determine next steps, said Simon. 

This isn’t just about Choco Taco, but it is an opportunity for Klondike to remind people that it is about “irreverence and fun and putting a smile on people’s faces,” he added. Asking consumers what they would do with the remaining product relates to Klondike famous “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” phrase.

“We wanted to put it in the hands of people because the community is what has made this beloved brand [successful],” said Simon.

Klondike’s social channels have benefited from the Choco-Taco-mania. Compared to the week before the announcement of Choco Taco's discontinuation, Klondike has recorded increases in engagement and recognition across all social platforms. On Instagram alone, Klondike has spiked 120.3% in organic engagements.

From July 25 to August 3, Klondike's tweets received more than 1.3 million impressions. Choco Taco began trending on Twitter beginning the evening of July 25 and climbed its way to the No. 1 spot shortly after, remaining on the trending page for more than 24 hours. 

Additionally, Instacart searches for Choco Taco went up 30,000% on July 26. 

Reflecting on the last two weeks, Kazam said that it is important for a brand to show consumers that you are listening. Edelman’s Trust Barometer data, she said, found that 63% of consumers believe they can get a brand to change almost anything about itself. 

“We do aim to be really responsive to what they are asking for,” Kazam said.

For any other brands considering retiring a product, Simon advised that they should first make sure they “take a minute and prep” and include consumers’ feelings in the equation.

“Think it through and recognize that these are special products and they hold special places in people’s minds,” Simon said. “Because of that, there will be more scrutiny about what you do. Think about who has made your brand famous and what is something they would respect and love to see.”

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