A mis-informed consumer, earlier this month, threatened to damage the 125-year-old reputation of Lipton, when she claimed to have found worms in Lipton Lemon Green Tea bags, and then uploaded a video on social media.
Lipton reacted swiftly to the video by putting out an informational video again on social media and responding to the complaint in the shortest possible period of time, quelled a dangerous rumour that could have harmed the brand.
In a video released through social media, a company spokesperson said, "There are no worms in Lipton Lemon Green Tea bags. They are flavour pieces, which dissolve in hot water. These are, in fact, Lipton lemon flavour pieces - you can place the green tea in hot water and watch them (pieces) dissolve. At Lipton, we are committed to providing the highest quality teas."
The company said the Food Health Inspection Department of the Dubai municipality which visited the Lipton Jebel Ali Factory, had confirmed the quality of its production and processes, and excluded the possibility of any worms in its products.
Any rumour can grow rapidly taking the shape of the Diffusion Curve proposed by Dr Everett Rogers almost 50 years ago. Once the rumour starts, it moves up very quickly to take the shape of the normal distribution curve.
The challenge in rumour management is that unless the rumour is quelled effectively at the 'innovators' stage it will begin to take an upward turn. This means that instead of seeing how the curve grows, we need to figure out how to kill the curve quickly in its formative stages. The blue dotted lines in the above graph represent the points at which the graph can be prevented from growing for which positive actions need to be taken for its decline. Once it has passed the 'early adopters' stage it would have gained so much momentum that it would become impossible to quell it. In rumour management, the emphasis is on how to kill the growth of the curve and bring it back to zero.
Lipton has done a fantastic job of rumour management in this case by killing the rumour quickly and effectively wiping out all doubts about the quality of its products.
This is a trick that Nestle completely missed out when it was accused last year of having MSG above permissible levels in its noodles. The court finally ruled in favour of Nestlé and overturned the government ban on its noodles following additional tests from three independent laboratories which confirmed the lead content to be well within permissible limits. But, by that time, the brand was off the shelf for several months and the damage to the brand was fairly permanent, because of the lack of rumour management skills in the company.
(The author is chief mentor, Percept H)