Painkillers and Product Recall

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The makers of Nurofen plus recently had to recall all remaining stock of the product, after it was discovered that some packs, in particular those in branches of Boots in Victoria, Beckenham and Bromley, contained the antipsychotic drug Seroquel. At first, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) put out a safety alert to warn people about the mistake, potentially affecting thousands of packets.     

Later, further evidence of tampering came to light in Northern Ireland, where a pack was found, this time containing the prescription medicine Neurontin, typically used to treat epilepsy.  Dr Aomest Bhatt, medical director of Neurofen Plus, said ‘We are taking this matter extremely seriously and have decided to recall all packs of Neurofen Plus as the most prudent course of action in the current circumstances. We’re asking consumers to return any packs of Nurofen Plus to a pharmacy. No other Nurofen products are affected or being recalled’.

Impact of a product failure

Nurofen has long been one of the leading Ibuprofen brands, but in addition to the financial expense incurred as a result of these incidents, a recall of all Nurofen Plus products sems likely to have a significant negative impact on the brand, and the public’s trust in Nurofen.

Product failures as high profile as this can cost companies millions, and in some cases destroy their reputations.  So far, the incidents have not been shown to result from actions of the company, and a formal investigation into the mix up is being conducted with help from the police.  But irrespective of whether any negligence is found to have occured, these events are likely to damage the brand.  The severity of the impact depends on how the recall is handled.

One criticism levelled against Reckitt Benckiser, the product’s manufacturer, was that they did not act fast enough in putting the public at ease following the discoveries. Although product recalls are invariably bad news for business, if handled correctly the damage to brand reputation might be controlled.  On the other hand, Santosh Desai, CEO of Future Brands suggests that ‘the best thing to do is not look for a quick fix solution. The healing process takes time and there’s no quick plaster’.

Inform customers at first

Jonathan Hemus, in his blog for The Drum, points out that Reckitt Benckiser provided no information about the product recall on the Nurofen website, their corporate website or their Facebook page. Hemus suggests the danger of not communicating with the public is that ‘customers turn to others for advice rather than Nurofen itself, a risky proposition in terms of reputation management.’

Nurofen has since added a statement to its websites and facebook page about the recall, but was arguably slow off the mark in doing so.

Vigilance is key to protecting the considerable investment involved in developing a brand – while Benckiser might not be at fault, the Nurofen recall may still have a major negative impact on the company as a whole.  As suggested in the Economic Times article, ‘product recall is the worst possible nightmare for every marketer’, reputation is fragile and what took years to establish, can come crashing down in hours.  No one can avoid the unforeseeable.  However, communication and engagement are key when information travels the world in milliseconds.  This is especially true in a crisis.