Trump Jr. posted a Tweet that showed a photo of a bowl of Skittles and suggested the United States not accept any refugees:
“If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful?”
“That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”
“This image says it all. Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.”
The response from Mars Inc., the Virginia-based confectioner giant that owns Skittles, was swift: “Skittles are candy; refugees are people. It’s an inappropriate analogy. We respectfully refrain from further comment, as that could be misinterpreted as marketing.”
Tic Tacs, the Italian-owned breath freshener mint that comes in a latch-covered pocket-box, found itself in the Skittles seat this past weekend when Donald Sr. talked about using Tic Tacs “just in case I start kissing her.” He was referring to actress Arianne Zucker in an 11-year-old video that was first made public by The Washington Post on Friday.
The video captures Trump talking with Billy Bush, then of “Access Hollywood,” on a bus with the show’s name written across the side. They were arriving on the set of “Days of Our Lives” to tape a segment about Trump’s cameo on the soap opera.
Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during the 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” according to the video.
Tic Tac went into damage control, tweeting that “Tic Tac respects all women. We find the recent statements and behavior completely inappropriate and unacceptable.”
Tics Tac is owned by Ferrero, the Italy-based chocolate giant that also owns Nutella. Like Mars, the company is known for its intense secrecy. Like Mars, Ferrero is dominated by a family.
Mike Sitrick, founder and chairman of Sitrick and Co., a global crisis communications firm based in Los Angeles, said he would have advised Tic Tac to do nothing. Instead, the candy company drew attention to itself.
“Tic Tac was not implicated in this,” he said. “And there was no reason for them to say anything. There was not even an implication that Tic Tac had anything to do with this.”
Bernard Pacyniak, editor of Candy Industry Magazine, said the industry is figuring out responses on the fly.
“As everyone says, this is the weirdest presidential campaign ever,” Pacyniak said. “It’s hard for candy companies to prepare a proper response when they have never seen anything like this before.”
Anthony Johndrow, CEO of Reputation Economy Advisors, put it this way: “The risk is often greater than reward. Emotional, negative public events or issues are best avoided or treated with humility if your brand is somehow dragged in.”
Sometimes, the value of reputation of value or brand is even assigned a dollar value on the company’s balance sheet. It can be even bigger than the company’s physical assets.
Rachel Griffiths, founding partner of Reputation Consultancy in Britain, said companies and organizations inevitably face negative associations. Correctly preserving a corporation’s public image, especially one that relies on consumers, can be the difference between corporate life and death.
“Whether you are Tic Tac, being associated with the behavior and values of the Trump family, Speedo being associated with the values and behavior of Ryan Lochte at the Olympics or a sponsor of FIFA,” Griffiths said, brands must be able to recognize the crisis and deal with it swiftly.
“Brands like Tic Tac and Skittles all have a global reputation that they don’t own,” Griffiths said. “Their reputation is owned by all those with an interest in them, including the consumers across the world eating the candy.”