Paid-for search can be used to counter adverse publicity

At a client workshop about great challenger brands, my colleague named the Bugaboo pushchair as his favourite brand.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom
Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom

I left the world of kids' buggies behind some years ago, but his glowing reports about the fabulous sense of independence the Bugaboo delivers to mums - thanks to its versatility, flexible design and portability - almost made me think about having another baby.

However, I felt very differently this morning, when news broke on the radio that Maclaren US had had to withdraw one million pushchairs because of an amputation risk after a dozen children had lost fingertips in the hinges. The story was particularly striking - apart from its squeamish aspect - because no spokesman from Maclaren would appear on the radio programme.

Furthermore, when I arrived at the office and searched online, there was no evidence on the search engines of any immediate action by the company to reassure UK mothers who owned or were considering buying the product. In the UK, the product is not being recalled, although a hinge-cover kit is available.

I was surprised by the relative silence of both the manufacturer and the high-street retailers, who are in my mind the experts in the arena of mums and babies.

You might have expected someone to make an advisory role part of their communications strategy as a matter of priority, or at least offer an opinion. The day the news broke was certainly a missed opportunity for someone.

In today's era of dialogue, it is not enough to remain silent when everyone is talking about you, particularly if the story is creating any kind of worry or paranoia - and no one is more likely to spread anxiety than a worried mum.  

Last week, I wondered whether the effort brands invest in creating destination websites that exemplify their brand essence can sometimes be misplaced - because you can build a perfect website, but no one will bother to visit you.

A better strategy is to allocate resource to understanding what is being said about you and being able to join the dialogue fast, wherever it is happening.

It is possible to use paid-for search as a way of reacting quickly to any adverse publicity a brand might be getting. And it is surely necessary in this day and age of real-time planning to have a set of tactics around that contingency.

But more than that, there is an opportunity to take the higher ground with a brand if it can deliver the right level of reassurance. So, not only can you neutralise an adverse story, you also have the chance to increase brand saliency. 

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