Some storylines are too irresistible to ignore, even if they’re not true. Sometimes, it involves important stories, laced with violence, tragedy and cultural overtones such as the false “hands up, don’t shoot,” narrative that emerged from the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri last August. Other times, it’s just silliness, illustrated by the dust-up over Cadbury Eggs, the beloved chocolate confection.
I’m not a fan of Cadbury Eggs. My wife adores them but they’re a bit sweet for my taste. Nonetheless, I was intrigued when she informed me that the Internet says they’re being banned in the United States. The headlines were disconcerting, bandying about words like “banning,” “blocking,” and “barring” as they pertain to Cadbury chocolate.
The alarming headlines were most often accompanied by sparse copy declaring outrage over the prospect of the famed eggs being banished from America. The culprit: American candy maker Hershey. That’s right - Big Chocolate.
The problem with almost all these stories is they’re wrong. There will be no shortage of Cadbury Eggs this year or anytime in the foreseeable future. The outrage appears limited to some merchants catering to Anglophiles, those with particular tastes for particular chocolates, and persons who were bamboozled by all the bad reporting on this story.
To be clear, there are several kinds of Cadbury Eggs. One kind is made in the United Kingdom. Another is made in the United States. They are made differently and some people prefer one kind over the other. Fair enough. I preferred McDonald’s french fries cooked in lard as opposed to whatever they’re cooked in now but that happened before the age of Twitter so the media were less able to report on my outrage.
In truth, most Americans have never tasted a Cadbury Egg made in the UK. Hershey has held the exclusive license to produce and distribute them in the US since 1988, meaning that virtually all of the eggs that have been filling kids’ Easter Baskets for more than a quarter century were made on this side of the Atlantic.
As for the aforementioned banning/blocking/barring, it seems the eggs made in the UK were being brought into the US under questionable legality by importers Let’s Buy British Imports and Posh Nosh. According to Jeff Beckman, who directs corporate communications for Hershey, “we tried to persuade a variety of people selling these grey-marketed products in violation of our intellectual property rights to cease these sales without the need for court action to enforce our rights.” After all, if one has exclusive license to make and sell something, they have every right to defend that license.
Hershey eventually negotiated settlements with the two importers to stop selling UK-made Cadbury Eggs in the US. This was a very good deal for Let’s Buy British and Posh Nosh considering the products they were importing were, according to Beckman, “in violation of federal food labeling law.” I don’t know about you but given the choice between dealing with Hershey or the the federal government, I’m going with the candy people.
This story is simple. Two companies were bringing products into the US in violation of a company’s rights and in violation of federal law. Now, they can’t. Could there be a more boring storyline? Never in a million years would a newspaper publish a story under the headline, “Companies Stop Breaking Law; Everything Fine.”
The option, then, is to go with the banning/blocking/barring narrative, quote a couple of merchants dealing in specialty products, head to Twitter for some raw outrage and peddle some nonsense on the Interwebs. It sounds silly but it’s a big problem for companies like Hershey which are left to clean up the journalistic debris that follows in the wake of this sort of asininity.
Newspapers have been printing “Man Bites Dog” stories for centuries but the stakes are higher than ever for companies who get wrapped around the axle when reporters and editors decide that website visits are more valuable than the reputations attached to their bylines and mastheads.
Nothing in the corporate world is immune from this anymore, not even a perfunctory civil proceeding involving candy. Crisis management used to be something of a dark art, limited to dire situations involving product recalls, malfeasance or errors of galactic proportion. Now, a crisis communications plan is necessary for even the most fundamental corporate functions.
Hershey went to considerable trouble and expense defending itself from people who were on the wrong side of the law which, in today’s media, makes them the Bad Guy. It’s the reality of doing business in a world beset with writers trying desperately to avoid the next round of newsroom layoffs, publishers trying to stay afloat and anonymous loudmouths spreading shinola over social media.