PR Needs to Mitigate the Negative Returns of Executive Rants

What was the CEO of Tupperware thinking? On an earnings call last week the executive, Rick Goings, explained to a reporter why the company had flat performance in 2012.

“We are a high-quality product and a brand,” Goings said. “Why do we do better in Europe than we do in the U.S.? Hey, take a look at the average brand of cab that you get into New York City. I mean they’re filthy. They’re junk. Get in a cab over here. It’s a Mercedes or an Audi.

The U.S.A. is Basically a Wal-Mart market,” Goings added. “They buy price. Europe buys quality, Japan [buys] quality. And our issue is how do we find the right product mix for the U.S. to make it happen there? And I’ve got to tell you, Olivia, it is challenging.”

Here’s the thing: While Tupperware is a $2.5 billion global company, with growth in Asia and South America offsetting slower activity in North America, according to financial reports, why would the chief executive of the company want to insult the world’s largest market?

The United States is a homogeneous market with more than 300 million people. Unlike the E.U., it has no internal borders. It has a single language, and an economy three times larger than any other.

And not only that, Tupperware is perceived as a utilitarian and versatile brand—which syncs up nicely with how Americans like to think about themselves.

Perhaps Goings is frustrated that lower-cost competition is crowding out Tupperware, and that the brand is seen more as a food-storage product, and not, as the company wants to stress, as a convenient food-preparation solution.

But even if that’s the case, why go on a rant that extends far beyond the product and its marketing challenges? Why call New York cabs “filthy?” Why turn positive brand characteristics—convenience, value, versatility—into negatives?

What strategic marketing or PR objective could Goings possibly think he was accomplishing by saying, effectively, that the U.S. is a “Wal-Mart” market and that we are okay with “junk?”

I did a Google search this morning on the term, “Tupperware CEO retracts comments.” There was no corresponding result—but it’s only a matter of time, that is, if the company has a sense of the PR harm it caused itself.

– Tony Silber  @tonysilber

  • Allison

    I think the question really lies in how can the U.S. market allow quality and price to work together cohesively without a business loosing money. Quality counts.

  • Rob Biesenbach

    I get the sense there was no strategic or PR objective involved — just a CEO shooting off his mouth and saying a dumb thing. Like the AIG exec who thought it would be a good idea (for about 24 hours) to join a suit against the federal government over the terms of the taxpayer-funded bailout that saved the company from death.

    Or the various pizza and casual dining restaurant executives who promise they will punish their customers by raising prices or their employees by cutting jobs and hours due to Obamacare.

    There was no objective involved in any of these statements, other than personal or political ax grinding.

    We should thank these people — they keep an army of crisis management counselors in business and provide memorable anecdotes and cases studies in What Not To Do.

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