Marketers have long known that constraining supply often piques demand. Coors, In-N-Out Burger and Blue Bell ice cream are all examples of products that have created national reputations, in part, by not being available nationwide. People desired what they couldn’t have, and absence definitely made the heart grow fonder.
That level of customer fanaticism can help propel brands to amazing heights, but it also means that customers feel personally invested, and that can create complicated situations when the brand does not, in their eyes, live up to its brand promise.
Blue Bell has learned that lesson over the past several months. The small-town Texas-based company with the catchy jingle (“We eat all we can, and sell the rest”) experienced a listeria outbreak that forced it to begin recalling some of its products in certain markets. That quickly devolved into a full-blown recall of all of its products everywhere.
Blue Bell initially was applauded for its quick action to recall its product, but things turned downward fast when an FDA investigation found that Blue Bell had systemic issues with safety, and that, according to CNN, “The company’s process for sanitizing equipment was inadequate. The plant failed to monitor the temperature of water used to clean equipment. Additionally, the building itself wasn’t constructed in a way to prevent drips and condensation from contaminating ice cream and packaging materials.”
Blue Bell got some good news last week when Texas billionaire Sid Bass agreed to invest as much as $125 million in the company to get it operational again. Here’s hoping that Mr. Bass’ first move is to clean house and send those responsible for not living up to the Blue Bell brand promise packing.
A reminder to Mr. Bass: If you are going to build your business by encouraging passionate fans, you had better live up to their high expectations.