Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A crisis with Crisco

Last night was an interesting evening for me. I was just hanging out with sisters, decided to put Halo 3 away for a change, to watch some quality TV (yes such a thing exists...check out How I Met Your Mother or The Big Bang Theory on CBS if you don't believe).

So while the TV was going, we decided it would be a good idea to get some snacks. My sister suggested she would make chocolate chip cookies. Add this to the fact of there being chocolate milk in the house, a great combination was in the making.

However, there was a catch. We had a curious case of Crisco shortening in the fridge. What I mean is we had no idea how long it had been in the fridge and whether it was still good or not. So we decided to check.

My sister hopped on my laptop and searched the Crisco site. It was easy to find the information. But to understand it was a whole other issue. A crisis with Crisco awaited us. Maybe those chocolate cookies weren't going to make it into my stomach tonight.

Now for the PR person, graphic designer, or combination of both who made the website, full marks. It features a nice combination of colours making it look great. But when we came to the Crisco FAQs and needed to know if our shortening was good or not we had more difficulty.

Basically, what you have to do is look at your manufacturing code or the date the shortening was made and find this number on your shortening. So we did that. The following numbers were presented to us: 3 094 201 5361.

Just an aside. In PR, for those of you who don't know, math is not our specialty. Many of us would agree that we cringe when we see a slew of numbers together. It is foreign to us. Well these numbers to me and my sister made us completely lost, more than ever math related problem I have ever come encounter with during my years in PR ever could.

The instructions according to the site would give us the following explanation: the first number is the year it was made...so the first number 3 would be 2003 (go figure)...the next 3 numbers, 094, represent the day of the year the product was made...so the 94st day of 2003 (I'm pretty sure but have no clue).

The second set, 201, are plant codes and have nothing to do with anything (then why are they on the container), and the last four numbers, 5361, is the date the shortening was manufactured in the so commonly used and wonderful...military time.

Needless to say it took a while to decipher the numbers. Were the numbers even deciphered in the first place? I'm not even sure....the cookies tasted good though.

The Crisco crisis gives us a perfect PR example of why your message needs to be clear to your audience at all times. Not just because you could make spoiled cookies. It has more to do with providing your publics with information that is clear, concise, correct, and complete - the Four C's of PR, the pillars of a strong message in PR.

In this case, will most people cooking be able to figure when in fact their shortening expires? Yes? No? Maybe? If you think the answer is not a definitive yes and you have to think about it, make sure it contains the Four C's, and then work on creating a clearer message for the audience you wish to reach.

It isn't worth taking a chance risking it and getting sick over it. Hopefully, I learned my lesson...


PR_newbie said...

Hello - I am currently a PR student and I just wanted to say that I completely agree with your blog. Well...with an aspect of it.

I agree with the importance of following the "Four C's of PR." Where I feel organizations need to focus on applying the four c's is their websites.

Obviously I believe that the concept needs to be applied to their key messages, however in the age of social media, on-line shopping and general mindless browsing, their websites a major key messages.

We had a guest speaker last semester and he said something that really resonated with me. He said that a website - the aesthetics, the composition, the user friendliness etc. – is the window into the company. If the website is ugly, disorganized and difficult to navigate what does that say about the organization? Not a very good message is it?

This is where the communications departments really need to step up. Like you said, the information a company provides its audience needs to be clear, concise, correct, and complete. Where does the majority of the audience get their information from? Websites.

So websites should not be designed by the “techies,” they should be designed by the “talkies” (sorry that was cheesy I know) so that the four c’s are carried across where it really counts.

Bet you if a PR professional would have designed that Crisco website they would have realized right away how ridiculously complicated it is to figure out the manufacturing date - so that problem, on the product and on the website, would have been nipped in the bud.

Femi said...

Yeah I couldn't agree with you more. The website is really the first contact point for so many consumers and this will only grow. I browse so many websites a day and it is so easy to just stop reading a bad one and move on. Whether this be in Crisco's case complicated information or an unattractive design,it all can play a part in getting the wrong message you want for your business across. Hopefully as more and more websites are broken down by skilled PR professionals, this will become a lot less common in the future.