Horsing around. How Tesco could turn a crisis into an opportunity.



by Magnus Shaw.


If you're going to be rumbled loading beefburgers with something other than beef, try to ensure it's not horse. Oats would be better. Or sweets. But, not cat or hamster - and definitely not horse.

As Tesco has discovered, people like horses. They like riding them, giving them sugar lumps, combing their hair, betting on them as they career dangerously over hedges - that sort of thing. They're considerable less keen on chewing on their dead flesh with a slice of cheese and some tomato relish.

Although, having said that, I'm only really talking about British people. In France, horse is a much enjoyed, culinary treat. I suppose it makes a welcome alternative to slugs and toads flash fried with a ton of garlic. But no, in the UK, it's a big thumbs down for gee-gee fillets.

Unsurprisingly, when the 'horse meat in burgers' news broke, Tesco, Sainsbury's, ASDA, The Co-Operative, Aldi and Lidl hit the button and various crisis procedures swung into place. Morrisons probably just rocked back on their chairs with tears of laughter streaming down their cheeks.

First came the bog-standard, clumsy explanations and excuses.  Phrases like 'high standards', 'full investigation' and 'deeply concerned' were bandied about. Soon we'll get 'lessons learned'. We always get 'lessons learned'. This morning, Tesco issued an apology in the form of a press ad.  Here it is:

"You have probably read or heard that we have had a serious problem with three frozen beef burger products that we sell in stores in the UK and Ireland.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has told us that a number of products they have recently tested from one of our suppliers contained horsemeat. While the FSAI has said that the products pose no risk to public health, we appreciate that, like us, our customers will find this absolutely unacceptable.

The products in our stores were Tesco Everyday Value 8 x Frozen Beef Burgers (397g), Tesco 4 x Frozen Beef Quarter Pounders (454g) and a branded product, Flamehouse Frozen Chargrilled Quarter Pounders.

We have immediately withdrawn from sale all products from the supplier in question, from all our stores and online.

If you have any of these products at home, you can take them back to any of our stores at any time and get a full refund. You will not need a receipt and you can just bring back the packaging.

We and our supplier have let you down and we apologise.

If you have any concerns, you can find out how to contact us at the bottom of this page, or go to any of our customer service desks in-store, or ask to speak to your local Store Manager.

So here's our promise. We will find out exactly what happened and, when we do, we'll come back and tell you.

And we will work harder than ever with all our suppliers to make sure this never happens again."

So far, so contrite. The statement only stops short of sending a senior Tesco executive round so you can flog him with a washing line. They're really crawling on their bellies here, aren't they? But was all this garment-rending and tooth-gnashing strictly necessary? Have Tesco taken the wrong tack altogether? I'd say so.

You see, while punters are a touch disgruntled right now, that's just a knee-jerk reaction. Properly managed, this shock could be massaged into a marketing opportunity. Instead of flanneling on about everything being 'unacceptable', Tesco should have put their energies into plugging their tremendous new range. Once customers realised their burgers were just as delicious as the non-dobbin variety - and eating equines is no way hazardous - everyone would have calmed down. Then the real advertising could begin.

I can see it now. Pretty ladies in aprons (with a fetching picture of Shergar on the front), holding large plates of grilled body - cubed and speared with a cocktail stick. 'Try a little horse, madam?' they would say. Large placards would swing above the frozen burger aisle 'Hay!' they would read 'Our burgers now have added pony!'. A TV campaign would target the gambling community, using the strapline: 'Last past the post? First for the roast!'.

And the retailers could stop dancing on the head of a pin, trying to assure folk the bad burgers only contained horse DNA. That just sounds more upsetting - as though one mouthful would cause human feet to become hooves and a plaited tail to sprout in one's trousers. Better to go to the other extreme and guarantee a minimum horsey content. After all, premium meat products are always boasting they're made with 100% pure beef, pork or lamb. So why not take the same approach with this fabulous new, show-jumping dinner option? You know, turn a negative into a positive, make a virtue out of sin. That's what advertising's all about, right? PR and creative agencies should be all over this, plotting and planning to help us see Frankel as a frankfurter.

To be honest, the more I weigh this up, the more I'm convinced Tesco has missed a trick. So come on guys, time to play the situation differently. With a bit of spin, horse burgers could be flying out of your stores by this time next week.

Well, galloping.

Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant


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