It appears as if a day doesn’t go by without yet another scare story.

In recent months, we’ve been told that ingredients in Nutella are carcinogenic, that eating burnt toast increases your cancer risk and how can we forget the story from 2015 that warned bacon consumption can lead to bowel cancer?

Now whilst I could happily forgo Nutella and maybe even toast, please for the love of god don’t take my bacon!

But putting my needs aside for one moment, whilst many of these so-called stories exaggerate the real risks involved to simply scaremonger and ‘sell papers’ we, the consumer often do nothing about them.  

However, there are numerous scare stories that have resulted in a real, significant and sustained consumer behaviour change. Behaviour changes that have presented both threats and opportunities to categories, brands and businesses alike.

Take for example an extreme version -  the dangers of BPA’s.

BPA or Bisphenol A is, sorry was, a chemical widely used by the packaging industry for decades but its ubiquitous usage ceased almost overnight.

In the early 00’s research emerged that suggested exposure to BPA had possible health effects on adults but more likely on children.

Quickly groups of consumers started to abandon the products that they were currently using and started to seek out alternatives. This behaviour change, coupled with mounting pressure from both the media and consumer groups led the European Commission to place an immediate ban on the use of BPA’s in plastic baby bottles and the FDA to remove its authorisation for its use in baby feeding products.

As a result of these rulings, almost all global manufacturers were tasked overnight with the costly and time consuming exercise of revisiting their formulations. A challenge which in turn opened the door for a host of rapidly emerging BPA free brands to pick up the customers that these bigger brands could no longer immediately satisfy.

In summary this was a scare story that fundamentally changed the competitive landscape of the category forever. But whilst this is an extreme example of the threats and opportunities that a scare story can trigger, a basic Google search quickly brings to light many other potential scare stories currently lying dormant within many categories. For example

  • Parabens in personal care products
  • Oxybenzone in sun creams
  • Trans fatty acids in foodstuffs
  • Artificial sweeteners in drinks
  • Mobile device radiation …to name but a few.

So, have you ever asked yourself, is there a danger lurking in your category and if so what is both the threat and the opportunity it could present?

These are questions that we at The Forge have been tasked with answering a number of times and across these studies some consistent learnings have emerged.

1: DON’T EXPECT EVERYONE TO JUMP SHIP

When a story gains traction, it’s important to be aware that different consumer groups will respond in different ways.

Yes of course there will be groups who will choose to completely eradicate their exposure to the danger in every way possible. There will also be groups who are completely unconcerned and so will simply continue as they always have, but these two groups are often the minority.

The biggest audience we see are those consumers who expend a great deal of effort to not eradicate the danger completely but rather reduce their exposure to it by employing a range of different strategies.

SO WHAT? By being aware of these different behaviours you can negate the impact of the danger by both supporting each groups' different strategies through a mix of your comms, propositions, portfolio etc but also by being aware of and tapping into the opportunities that any behaviour change is likely to unlock.

2: CONSIDER CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

Be aware that different markets will react in different ways.

Awareness, engagement and knowledge about these dangers will often vary significantly by market and this will lead to differences in both the type and timescale of behaviour change observed.

In our experience, we see markets falling into three broad camps.

  1. Markets that are cynical about the stories presented resulting in little change
  2. Markets that are impulsive resulting in fast, dynamic change, and;
  3. Markets that are considered in their response, resulting in a slower but often more significant change

SO WHAT? A global strategy and response won’t be as effective as a tailored market response. Being able to understand where each of your key markets are at in terms of awareness, engagement and knowledge of the danger enables you to effectively manage your risk.

3: TO LEAD OR NOT TO LEAD

“We’ve an ingredient issue that could rear it’s ugly head, so do we proactively talk about it or simply sit on it in the hope it never materialises?”

This is a key question we see businesses struggling to answer and for good reason.

Taking a lead will obviously increase awareness of the issue and impact the business but at the same time this needs to be tempered with an understanding of the risk of doing nothing and then another competitor or a different source e.g. the mainstream media or online bloggers etc stepping in first and increase awareness anyway!

But whilst every scenario needs to be evaluated in its own right there are numerous case studies that demonstrate the company taking the lead in raising the awareness or dealing promptly and transparently with the issue will benefit disproportionately – often because they’ve already prepared themselves for the impact.

SO WHAT? Ask yourself what is the risk of not doing or saying anything about it?

Brands and businesses that have considered the above can insulate themselves against the fallout from the emergence of a lurking category ‘danger’.

Take for example Coca-Cola who facing the sugar backlash took steps to protect themselves by understanding consumer response and behaviour towards the issue around the world.

1: THEY OFFERED GREATER CHOICE TO DIFFERENT AUDIENCES

  • They ensured that all of their major brands had widely available no-sugar, no-calorie or lower calorie versions
  • Launched a CSD alternative in Glaceau Smartwater

2: THEY UNDERSTOOD DIFFERENT MARKET REACTIONS AND CATERED TO EACH ACCORDINGLY

  • The developed Coca-Cola Life (a Stevia & sugar version) and staged its launch across target markets around the world. Admittedly this particular intervention was unsuccessful but the idea of timing launches to coincide with an uptick in concern or conversation in a particular market is a sound one.

3: THEY TOOK THE LEAD WITH THE ISSUE AND WERE COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT

  • Coca-Cola GB was one of the first companies to sign up to the Government’s Responsibility Deal in 2012
  • Voluntarily signed up to government front of pack guidelines
  • Reduced the calories and sugar content across their entire range
  • Increased marketing investment in zero calorie colas by 52%.
  • Stopped all direct marketing to U12s.

With the democratisation of information, the rise of the online influencer and the growth of fake news then sadly we believe that every category has a potential danger lurking and even if you think you’ve already headed one off then what is the threat of yet another emerging?

This is the reality in which we now all live and so there is a clear need for us all to be proactive, positioning ourselves such that we can easily negate the threat and maximise the opportunity that these lurking dangers present.

We are experts in helping our clients do just that. So tell us, what dangers lurk in your category?

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