Digital Crisis or The Court of Public Opinion: Hellman's vs. Hampton Creek

What does it take to weather a digital crisis?

Almost every brand, every company or every person has the potential to find themselves in a situation where they are surrounded by the digital equivalent of a pitchfork wielding mob. Where and why angry and upset individuals congregate can shift (for better or for worse) in a matter of days. Hours even.

What do you do?

Photo: Stacy Spensley

Photo: Stacy Spensley

Last week, we saw the classic David & Goliath storyline play out when 
news broke about Unilever, parent company to the leading mayonnaise, Hellman’s,filing a lawsuit against startup competitor Hampton Creek. Just Mayo, the name of Hampton Creek’s eggless spreadable product, has seen positive consumer awareness (and resulting sales) skyrocket due to Unilever’s lawsuit. The public response has overwhelmingly been either:

  • Preference for Just Mayo over Hellman’s
  • No experience trying Just Mayo, but still furious with Hellman’s for picking on ‘the little guy’

The plot thickened this week when it was reported that Hellman’s was discretely changing the positioning on some of its own egg-free mayonnaise-ish products.

Cue even more upheaval and outrage from the social media mob.

The claim made by Hellman’s is that Hampton Creek is misleading consumers with their logo and name. But…

do we as consumers have the capacity – and with social media, the tools – to overrule what ultimately will be left up to the courts to decide? To refute this belief?

Who gets to deliver the verdict on the Hellman’s brand?

In the court of public opinion, Hellman’s is losing – so far. Their Facebook page (as of November 17) has not been updated since November 11. They are standing strong against Hampton Creek when questioned by media. Given how negative consumer response has been, it’s almost admirable to see them not bend
at least too quickly in the face of the public backlash.

But will they?

For Unilever – is this a crisis or simply the public exercising their right to choose – without needing a major corporation stepping in to say that they are being misled? Either way, the battle against Hampton Creek has only begun.

What do you think? Is Hellman’s being a bully or does mayonnaise need to contain eggs? Is that even the issue? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter, LinkedIn or in the comments!

Posted on: November 19th, 2014 by

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