The past week shows that even bullet proof brands like Coca Cola can find themselves in the eye of an unexpected storm. A storm that starts to rage and grow with a little more force than you would like.
Coca Cola are the main sponsors in the Euro 2020s. So, when Cristiano Ronaldo pushed the bottles to one side and shouted ‘Agua’, it wasn’t quite what they were hoping for.

The ‘snub’ sent social buzzing, and quickly hit the headlines, and our Director was invited onto TalkRadio to talk about the story. Incredibly, Ronaldo’s actions also sent Coke’s market value nosediving, knocking $4bn off the share price.

Ronaldo has 300m Instagram followers and a hero status among legions of sports fans so it’s a moment that could live long in people’s memories.. Particularly as its tied to the one of the world’s favourite sporting tournaments. So what should Coke do now, and what lessons can brands learn from this story? And what can you do to minimise damage to your brand reputation when something unexpected happens?

Do your research

Ronaldo has made no secret of the fact that he is not a Coke fan. So, this all could have been avoided with a bit of research and foresight! Finding out who your brand dissenters are, as well your brand advocates, is equally important.

Head off trouble

When a story breaks like this, start looking for other potential sources of trouble. How could this spiral or change direction, could it reopen old debates or unearth skeletons you would rather leave in the cupboard? Social media is also important to monitor. In the case of Coca Cola, other players are following in Ronaldo’s footsteps and it’s prompted discussions about whether ‘unhealthy’ brands’ should sponsor sporting events. It’s important to plan for different scenarios and have signed off messages ready to go if necessary.

Turn it to your advantage

Sometimes bad press can turn out to be an opportunity for good PR. Using humour can work well and for Coke this could be the perfect opportunity to push other alternatives in their portfolio such as Coke Zero. A good example of this is when KFC ran out of their core product – chicken – and ran full page ads apologising for their mistake with their logo simply rearranged to FCK.

Think about your audience

The key thing in a crisis is always to keep calm, gather the facts and not rush into a knee jerk response. If you need time, take it, and you can always issue a holding response. The important thing is put yourself into your audience shoes. What will they be thinking and feeling, what do they want and expect from you as a brand. Is it reassurance, explanation, an apology or another type of action? When the news cycle moves on, make sure you don’t forget and take the right steps to make things better.

Stay honest

There is no point pretending. Coke is not denying that it’s a sugary drink. It simple states that everyone has different preferences and tastes. It didn’t try and explain or excuse, it just kept the message simple and honest and closed down the debate. Don’t try and depart from your brand character and values because people will see straight through it.

Debrief and learn

In the aftermath of your crisis it’s critical you take stock. A sigh of relief and moving on is a missed opportunity. This is a good time to revisit your crisis plans and procedures and look more closely at roles and resources in place. It’s also a good reminder of the pitfalls of working with people in the public eye, including influencer marketing. Building genuine and collaborative relationships is the answer to successful talent management.

If you find yourself in a pickle, or are worried about something damaging the reputation of your brand, we are here to help you come out the other side smiling. Please let us know how we can help.