Rebuilding Consumer Trust: Advertising to Recover from Recall

In the fast-paced world of consumer goods, product recalls are an unfortunate reality that brands must face. The aftermath can devastate a company, as happened when researchers discovered that Swiss water company Evian was contaminated at the source with pesticides. The finding sunk the company, which was one of the top-selling natural water brands at the time the findings were released to the public, and is still struggling to survive. Contrast that with the poisoning incident involving Tylenol.  After the recall, the company experienced a short blip in sales but continued to surge forward after a relatively short time. What makes these two situations and their outcomes so different? Rebuilding consumer trust explains a good bit of how Tylenol recovered and expanded while Evian nearly died. Rebuilding consumer trust post-recall is critical for survival. Today, we’ll discuss how to rebuild trust after a recall or other serious concern over the safety or efficacy of your brand. We’ll also delve into the strategies that brands use to rebuild trust through effective advertising.

outcomes of product recalls
Image courtesy of Investopedia

The shockwave of a product recall

A product recall is a serious event with both tangible and intangible costs, as you can see in the graphic below. While the costs of physically removing the product from everywhere it’s available are high, they’re nothing compared to the cost of losing consumer trust and the resulting impact on profits.

rebuilding consumer trust
Image courtesy of Rentokil

A product recall can seriously impact a brand, harming its reputation and shaking consumers’ trust. In the image above, you can see the outcomes from the five largest food recalls in US history that ranged from indictments of the principles to bankruptcy. While some businesses survive the impact of a major recall, few end up recovering completely from such an event. Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and Best Buy’s pressure cooker serve as poignant examples. Their recalls vividly highlight the formidable challenges brands encounter when striving to regain consumer trust after causing harm.

For Johnson & Johnson, a well-known household brand, the pivotal event was the recall of its baby powder. According to Drugwatch, concerns over asbestos contamination prompted the recall, reaching a crucial moment. In October 2019, trace amounts of asbestos were discovered in a tested bottle by the FDA. Consequently, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of Johnson’s Baby Powder and announced a global cessation of its sales by 2023. Consumers, who had long relied on the brand for its commitment to safety and quality, found themselves grappling with skepticism. The revelation not only led to a decline in sales but also prompted many consumers to question the company’s dedication to their well-being.

Rebuilding consumer trust proved an uphill battle for Johnson & Johnson. The company had to address not only the specific issue but also the broader implications for its overall commitment to consumer safety. You can argue that this recall not only led to lower sales but a series of lawsuits claiming the product led to cancers in women who used the product.

Similarly, worries about the exploding pressure cooker prompted Best Buy to initiate a recall for a specific line of pressure cookers. As reported by People, approximately 930,000 Insignia pressure cookers are being recalled due to a burn hazard. This action follows 31 reported incidents received by Best Buy, where “contents were expelled under pressure,” as stated by the CPSC.  Of these incidents, seventeen involved injuries, some of which resulted in second-degree and severe burns, according to the organization.  In this context, consumers who had formerly placed trust in the brand for dependable and secure appliances may now find their confidence shaken. TorHoerman Law notes that the potential harm from a faulty pressure cooker may cast doubt on Best Buy’s commitment to product safety and rock consumer trust in other products they sell.

Gaining back consumer trust after such incidents is a rigorous journey. Brands must address recall issues and communicate their commitment to preventing future incidents. Transparency in acknowledging faults, quickly and thoroughly implementing stringent quality control measures, and demonstrating a proactive commitment to consumer safety become crucial steps in rebuilding consumer trust in the aftermath of a product recall.

The examples of Johnson & Johnson and Best Buy illustrate how a product recall, once it occurs, can cast a long shadow on consumer perception. Regaining trust requires a careful and sustained effort by the brand. This entails demonstrating genuine remorse, commitment to improvement, and an unwavering dedication to ensuring consumer safety in all aspects of their products.

The initial response

Organizations impacted by trust events, as reported by Deloitte, can fall significantly behind industry peers. This decline in value and market cap ranges from 26% to 74%. In light of these statistics, the first step in rebuilding consumer trust post-recall is adopting an honest and transparent communication strategy. This approach is crucial for fostering openness and addressing the concerns surrounding product recall, setting the foundation for trust reconstruction. This initial response not only sets the tone for the rebuilding process but also establishes a foundational framework upon which trust can be reconstructed.

Because its response in the face of a product recall was exceptional, Tylenol is now a case study on how to rebuild trust post-recall. So, let’s explore what Tylenol did right to help you understand how you can rebuild trust in the event of a product recall or failure.

  • Deaths were reported and Tylenol was suspected of poisoning the victims
  • Without waiting for a clear report of its culpability, Tylenol issued a full recall and carefully laid out how consumers could replace products that might contain toxic chemicals.
  • The report showed Tylenol wasn’t responsible for the deaths which resulted from tampering with products in the retail store.
  • Rather than back away from responsibility, Tylenol changed the way they manufactured the product to make tampering more difficult and transparant to consumers.

Demonstrating transparency and accountability from the outset, as shown in the Tylenol incident, allows brands to actively work towards regaining consumer confidence. Rather than attempting to avoid blame, this proactive approach is essential for mitigating the long-term impact of a trust event on their market standing. Compare that to the response by Ford when its Pinto was suspected in vehicle deaths. They denied responsibility and refused to do anything to protect Pinto owners. When a lawsuit uncovered a memo from Ford stating that not only did they know of the problem but calculated the cost for lawsuits resulting from the product failure were less than the cost to recall the products and fix them, the results were devastating for Ford for many years. This incident also led to the formation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which raised the cost of manufacturing for all companies by instituting new rules and paperwork.

customer trust
Image courtesy of Edelman

The role of advertising in rebuilding trust

Advertising plays an instrumental role in the recovery process, serving as a powerful tool to reinforce the company’s commitment to consumers and sharing ways the company revised its processes to keep the promises made to consumers. It communicates corrective actions and reshapes the narrative surrounding the brand’s commitment to safety and quality.

Transparency and accountability

In the aftermath of a product recall, advertising campaigns play a crucial role in rebuilding consumer trust by prioritizing transparency and accountability. These campaigns should go beyond conventional promotional messages, instead focusing on sincere communication about the steps taken to address the recall issues.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce highlights Zendesk’s finding that an authentic apology can lead to a potential increase of up to 15% in customer satisfaction. Brands can effectively convey corrective actions and preventive measures by leveraging various communication channels. These may include social media, official statements, and targeted advertisements.

Showcasing quality assurance processes

In the realm of advertising, brands can strategically utilize their campaigns to spotlight a steadfast dedication to quality assurance. This involves more than just a mere presentation of their commitment; it requires showcasing a consistent history of responsible and ethical practices.

Harvard Business School Professor Sandra Sucher highlights the challenge. Building trust demands a sustained track record of making the right choices to counterbalance any misstep.

To reinforce this commitment, advertising can delve into manufacturing, quality control, and testing processes, offering consumers valuable behind-the-scenes insights.

Celebrating positive changes

If a brand has implemented significant changes or improvements in the wake of a recall, these positive changes can be highlighted in advertising campaigns.

Whether it’s upgraded safety features, enhanced testing protocols, or a revamped quality control system, showcasing positive transformations can rebuild confidence.

Leveraging testimonials and endorsements

Harnessing the power of positive testimonials and endorsements can be a formidable strategy in the process of rebuilding trust. When satisfied customers or industry experts share positive experiences, it serves as a testament to the brand’s reliability. Additionally, it provides a genuine and credible endorsement.

Inclusive advertising efforts that incorporate real stories from consumers who have directly benefited from the brand’s commitment to safety add an authentic touch.


Rebuilding consumer trust after a product recall is undeniably challenging. However, with a strategic and sincere advertising approach, brands can regain the confidence of their audience. Transparency, education, and a genuine commitment to quality become the cornerstones of successful advertising campaigns aimed at rebuilding trust.

By acknowledging past mistakes, showcasing improvements, and prioritizing consumer safety, brands can turn a crisis into an opportunity for growth and resilience.

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