3 Marketing Tactics Designed for Crisis Communications

by Lucy Leiderman

4 min read

News, PR

If you’re a consumer product in a space dominated by similar competitors, you may want to keep in mind that often, to the consumer’s eyes, you are the company you keep.

Let’s take the case of Barilla boss, Guido Barilla. In a recent Italian radio interview, he stated Barilla ads won’t feature gay couples because the company believes in the “traditional family.”  He also said that gay people unhappy with this policy could eat another brand of pasta.

The news made global headlines and Mr. Barilla found himself on the receiving end of an angry Board. The story spread online so quickly that Barilla even changed the name of its corporate site to, “The company’s position on Chairman Guido Barilla’s Remarks,” just to get ahead of negative articles in search results.

He apologized in due time, but by then his competitors had gotten the upper hand and cost the company significant market share. Here’s how they employed certain tactics to turn crisis communications on its head to gain the upper hand against the competition.

Agile Marketing

Agile marketing is a reactive approach inspired by Web development tactics, and it adheres to a philosophy of doing nothing that can’t be changed, adjusted or tested. Agile marketing thrives in responsive campaigns, where ideas come to fruition in a short time span. This philosophy is important for marketers to keep in mind as consumer opinions are formed faster than ever. It is why, when news of Barilla’s foot-in-mouth remark broke, its competitors were able to quickly mount their own campaigns in response.

San Remo pasta came out with an ad featuring rainbow coloured pasta shells with the tagline, “We are all family here.” Bertolli posted an image of different kinds of pasta walking hand-in-hand with the caption, “Love and pasta for all!” And Buitoni had tortellini making female and male symbols with a similar title, “Pasta for all.” That’s just to name a few. By being agile and moving quickly, they were able to get their message out there to the peak of popularity while the topic was still trending.

Recognizing Value in Niche Marketing

Niche marketing is typically used when a return on investment can be made by going after a small target audience. Niche groups feature fewer people who don’t necessarily have larger buying patterns, so you’re basically going after only a minor increase in market share and sales after putting a lot of effort into unique campaigns. But what happens when your competition’s Chairman has dug himself into a company-shaped hole?

When Garofalo, another Italian brand of pasta, came out with an advertisement featuring mixed types of pastas together and a caption reading, “We don’t care who you do it with. The important thing is that you do it Al Dente!” the target demographic was clear. Many companies avoid this type of niche marketing because they fear it will alienate clientele who disagree with that perspective or niche. But in the case of the blowback from Barilla’s comments, the tide of public opinion was clear. Garofalo, and the companies mentioned above, saw the benefit in niche marketing because it did not just appeal to the demographic mentioned. Now, the campaign appealed to everyone who disagreed with Barilla and a specific stance or ideology.

Bold, but Positive Messaging

On the Web, Barilla’s competition was wise in alluding to the controversy and not directly calling it out. Bertolli, who developed new ads for the occasion, have also been resurfacing a commercial from 2009 featuring a man falling in love with a waiter. A spokesman said over social media, “We just wanted to spread the news that Bertolli welcomes everyone, especially those with an empty stomach.” The timing and content of Bertolli’s ads are quite evidently in response to Barilla, but avoiding name-calling or derogatory statements about the Chairman’s comments show that the competition has taken the high road. A good strategy – especially since the alternative was sinking with the ship. Or spaghetti.