Want to Generate Bad PR and Social ‘Dislikes?’ Here’s General Mills’ Strategy

General-Mills-Headquarters-300x226Food giant General Mills issued an update to its privacy policy this week stating that customers who engage with the brand in basically any way forfeit their right to sue the company, as reported by The New York Times. This includes downloading coupons, linking to or "liking" any of General Mills’ products—such as Cheerios—on social media or entering company-sponsored contests.

The company’s legal terms “require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.” The legal team at General Mills may believe it is doing the right thing by shielding the company from frivolous lawsuits. From a customer relations perspective, however, this move could be categorized as peevish and insensitive. The potential for alienating customers is already evident on social media.

It is hard to know if the courts will recognize any company’s claim to be lawsuit-proof just because its own legal policy says so. The General Mills action has legal scholars pondering the validity of its actions. But the company is leaving the impression that it is picking a fight with consumers where none previously existed. And there is no court in the land that can protect a brand against bad PR.

The best way for General Mills, or any company large or small, to avoid lawsuits is by producing safe products and being transparent and honest in its dealings with the public. It’s not foolproof, but it’s better than trying to dictate to your customers their own legal rights.

UDPATE: General Mills responded to the New York Times story late Thursday in hopes of clarifying their policy. Spokesman Mike Siemienas stated in an email: "No one is precluded from suing us merely by purchasing our products at the store or liking one of our brand Facebook pages." The policy would apply to people subscribing to a publication or downloading coupons. However, if a consumer "likes" a General Mills product Facebook page in exchange for a product coupon, then the policy would apply.

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