WSJ Crisis of the Week: Nestlé Confronts Source of Bottled Water Brouhaha

Schwartz Media Strategies CEO, Tadd Schwartz, shares with the Wall Street Journal his crisis communications plan for Nestlé as the company faces litigation over its Poland Spring brand of bottled water. 

By Ben DiPietro

Nestlé takes a dip in the crisis pool this week after its North America water unit was accused of fraud in how it markets the company’s Poland Spring brand of bottled water. The lawsuit by 11 consumers alleges the water Nestle says comes from a spring is actually “common groundwater.”

The company issued a statement denying the claims and saying the lawsuit is just an attempt “to manipulate the legal system for personal gain.” It defended its claim that Poland Spring is “100% spring water” and said it meets all U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules for the definition of spring water, as well as all other federal and state laws. The statement includes videos showing where the company says its water comes from and an interview with a “natural resource manager” responsible for the company’s bottling.

The experts break down how well Nestlé handled this crisis from a communications standpoint.

Tadd SchwartzTadd Schwartz, president and chief executive, Schwartz Media Strategies: “It’s encouraging when a company forcefully defends its brand in the face of a lawsuit that threatens to discredit its product. Such is the case with Poland Spring, which has banked 170 years of brand equity on its name and the idea its water does, in fact, come from a natural spring.

“Poland Spring could have declined comment due to pending litigation but instead took quick action to undermine the lawsuit through a strongly worded statement, a video featuring an expert explaining the steps taken to extract spring water, an infographic tailor-made for digital sharing and a detailed ‘frequently asked questions’ page on its corporate website.

“Each tactic targeted a specific audience–from consumers and the media to investors–and each put forward a clear, concise message designed to reassure customers its product is authentic while sending a shot across the bow to the plaintiffs and their attorneys.”

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