You might be interested to check part I of this post before reading this part.
During bad time of a brand, for example, plunging market share due to an image crisis resulting from negative news reports, a brand’s decision whether to speak up immediately or not, usually depends on two things: first, the cultural context; second, whether the company knows the actual situation so that it can decide on what and how to speak up.
Let us first talk about the second reason. How could a company respond if it does not know what is going on? For example, in 2006, Coca Cola and Pepsi soft drinks in India were reported to have been contaminated with pesticides. It took about three weeks for these brands to figure out what was actually going on and how to respond. This contamination was initially discovered by an independent laboratory, then it was reported by newspapers, then eager politicians jumped in with anti-multinational sentiment. These brands took time, being silent. During this silent three weeks, the public attitude turned against these brands.
Last year, there were “minor” problems with Children’s Tylenol in USA, with bad odors and change of color reported by consumers. Company executives started an investigation, found out the problem, and took about nine months to initiate a recall. They took time to decide before they could speak up and take action. Obviously, it contradicts the previous action from Tylenol in 80’s when people died out of cyanide contamination (click here to know more). They were really prompt to apologize, recall, investigate, and fix the problem at that time. Silence was not an option, probably due to gravity of the problem.
Evidently, it seems like understanding the meaning of silence based on culture is extremely necessary. In western culture, silence may mean “uncertainty”, whereas in eastern culture it means “agreement”. Coke and Pepsi, once attacked by independent lab, newspapers, and politicians, took time to respond which resulted in the public understanding of these brands being guilty, with the perception that as if these brands had accepted and agreed on the allegations. So applying the western understanding of silence in eastern perspective is not only erroneous, but also dangerous and unexpected of multinational brands like Coke and Pepsi. Under this scenario, no matter what we know or do not know about a problem, a brand must be prompt to communicate to public, pending their understanding of what is actually going on.
It does not mean that, a “brand in trouble” should stay quiet for a while in western culture. Who would appreciate “uncertainty” when consumers report problems with brands? The best option would be to speak up and accept the problem as they are. Even if it does not add anything to consumers’ confidence, it would at least prevent further damage to its image.