No one could accuse Mars of doing things by halves. Because a small piece of red plastic was found in a Snickers bar in Germany, the confectionery giant is currently pulling a month’s production run of Mars, Milky Way, Snickers and Celebrations products from shelves around the world.
Mars hasn’t put any figures on the recall, but they are bound to be eyewatering. The factory in the Netherlands that made the plastic-stricken Snickers makes 27 million chocolate bars a day and distributes them to 60 countries. That’s a hell of a lot of chocolate to take off the market voluntarily (especially in the run up to the crucial Easter trading period), and Mars will win plenty of goodwill for not shirking the hit.
But this recall again highlights the communications challenge big multinationals face when things go wrong. While its operational actions have been decisive, Mars’ comms efforts have been more hit and miss. Feedback from store managers we’ve spoken to suggests trade communication has been handled generally well (despite the odd media grumble about products being pulled too slowly, especially in indies), but other PR has been more sluggish.
Shoppers looking for information on the recall straight from the horse’s mouth found it harder than they should have. The Mars corporate website was offline for several hours, customer care hotlines in several countries collapsed under customer enquiries, and Mars’ branded social media channels had surprisingly little in the way of information.
In Mars’ defence, it’s not hard to see how updating a Facebook page may slip down the list of priorities in the midst of a major recall. But that’s exactly why communications experts stress the importance of thinking of such seemingly small details well in advance of any crisis – you have to have a plan for how you pass on messages to the front line quickly and effectively, especially if you’re dealing with multiple countries.
After all, when crisis hits, the smartest operational decision-making counts for little if it isn’t matched by equally smart communications.