Ad Watchdog Slams Tesco for ‘Misleading’ Horse Meat Crisis Campaign

Here’s a hint: when creating a damage control campaign, make sure your information is correct, because “spread the blame” strategies can come back to bite you.

UK retailer Tesco, which found itself in trouble last year over traces of horse meat detected in various products including Burger King sandwiches, has been criticized by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority for making “misleading” claims. These charges related to a full-page release published in UK papers earlier this year under the headline “What burgers have taught us.

It’s an effective damage control statement, and the BBC even called it “a strange bit of poetry”, but it also reads like a cop-out.

The ASA had a problem with this sentence:

The problem we’ve had with some of our meat lately is about more than burgers and bolognese. It’s about some of the ways we get meat to your dinner table. It’s about the whole food industry.

No one’s denying that Tesco wasn’t the only guilty party, but the problem with the claim was that it “unfairly denigrated food suppliers who had not been implicated in the supply of mis-labelled meat products” by implying that anyone selling meat in Europe played a role in the scandal.

This kind of “hey, everybody does it” message is very familiar, but it rarely works, because it’s really just an attempt to deflect the blame (see Armstrong, Lance). If only American consumer advocates/watchdogs were so aggressive.