In 1993, a couple in Washington denounced Pepsi to local authorities for allegedly finding a syringe in a soda can. The next day, another case was reported the same, so the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement alerting consumers in the region to take precautions when buying soft drinks that came from the bottling company contracted by Pepsi. The directors of Pepsi, totally sure that the reports were false, asked the leaders of the bottling company to declare before the media the impossibility of intervening in the bottling process of the soft drinks.
However, during the week following the complaint, reports began to arrive at Pepsi offices about similar cases, this time in distant cities. And it was at that moment that Pepsi joined a response team, consisting of twelve managers, to take care of the crisis that was unfolding.
Pepsi’s response was to post the security video of a Colorado store that showed a woman placing a syringe in a tin behind the back of one of the employees. At the same time, they published a report explaining the bottling process. The strategy consisted in presenting two simultaneous defenses. One, the corporate report, to demonstrate that there was no adulteration in the production phase; another, the security video, to verify that the external objects were placed by people after the cans were opened and that they were only looking to discredit the brand or, simply, make a bad joke. Shortly thereafter, the Pepsi CEO and the FDA Commissioner jointly announced that there was no risk in drinking Pepsi products.
It should be mentioned that, prior to the joint statement, the FDA announced in the media the arrest of an individual for presenting false claims, emphasizing that this act, being a federal crime, had a penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000. . Since this announcement was issued prior to the joint statement, it can be inferred that Pepsi urged the FDA to issue this announcement as part of its damage control strategy.
The FDA also issued notices announcing that no supermarket was withdrawing Pepsi products, which helped build trust in smaller stores and-thus mitigate losses at the distributors’ level. Having the backing of the FDA, the government body that handled the cases initially, Pepsi’s defense gained greater strength.
In parallel, the central offices sent daily reports on the state of the crisis to its 600 offices, distribution centers and bottling plants throughout the United States. The reports included response protocols to assure clients and suppliers that the drinks were safe.
Once the crisis was mitigated, thanks in large part to the video from the Colorado store, Pepsi paid advertising space in national newspapers to announce its “victory” and to thank consumers who remained loyal to the brand. The ad read: “Pepsi is pleased to announce … nothing. […] As the United States knows now, those stories about Diet Pepsi were a hoax. Hundreds of investigators did not find evidence to support a single claim … [Thank you] to the millions who accompanied us. ” And although a drop in Pepsi shares of 2% was reported, this company recovered in less than a month thanks to its rapid response, its communication strategy and coordination with federal government authorities.
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