Cinnamon Toast Crunch flounders in shrimp-tail crisis

The sugary cereal’s digital team initially tried to deny a writer’s aquatic discovery on Twitter. The prawny saga has become must-see social media entertainment.

Editor’s note: This article is a re-run as part of our countdown of top stories from the past year.

There’s something fishy going on with Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

At least, that’s the takeaway of one consumer who purchased a box of the beloved cereal from his local California Costco, only to discover a couple of sugar-encrusted shrimp tails in his box.

And he had already eaten a bowl before discovering the secret ingredients. Yuck.

Jensen Karp, a comedian with some 99,000 followers on Twitter, was backed up by others online, including actor Seth Rogen, and his story quickly became an international sensation with Twitter users sharing their disgust.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch tried to deploy a crisis response strategy that wasn’t prepared to handle Karp’s lucid, engaging social media storytelling.

Then the brand’s social media team made its big mistake:

The claim forced Karp to offer more photographic evidence of the revolting surprise he had discovered in his box of cereal—and made him angry enough to start a campaign to prove his claims.

Karp tweeted that further investigation of the contents of cereal box unveiled other freight objects, including some string and pieces of cereal with black dots baked into them.

The sleuths of Twitter started concocting ideas about what the evidence could mean as users’ brains went into overdrive to connect the dots on this mysterious set of facts:

And another social media moment was enshrined in the digital firmament:

Cinnamon Toast Crunch has so far been unable to steer the incident offline, and efforts to investigate have failed to satisfy a severely upset consumer:

What’s more, Karp describes himself as something of a superfan in an interview with TMZ about the incident, describing how he owns a Cinnamon Toast Crunch-themed shirt and sneakers.

As the story began to make the rounds in traditional media outlets, General Mills’ crisis response congealed.

USA Today wrote:

In a statement to USA TODAY, General Mills spokesperson Mike Siemienas said the company was still investigating but “can say with confidence that this did not occur at our facility.”

“We are waiting for the consumer to send us the package to investigate further,” Siemienas said. “Any consumers who notice their cereal box or bag has been tampered with, such as the clear tape that was found in this case, should contact us.”

But the damage might be done with the social media response from Cinnamon Toast Crunch’s handle.

The incident is a stark reminder to communicators about the dangers of making assumptions about facts from social media reports—and the need for careful crisis communications as part of a social media strategy. Don’t make statements before you have all the facts, and prepare holding messages to weather the initial onslaught while you conduct an investigation.

Or perhaps it’s a reminder to social media pros not to fall on their swords when presented with an untenable situation.

And don’t pick a Twitter fight with a comedian. The internet is their playground; we’re all just prawns—sorry, pawns—in a much larger digital chess match of reputation management.


One Response to “Cinnamon Toast Crunch flounders in shrimp-tail crisis”

    Jesse Harmon says:

    This is a great example of what not to do and why you do not do it. Cinnamon Toast Crunch really tied themselves into knots trying to negotiate that Twitter thread. Your comments on the disaster that just unfolded before my eyes were spot on. And for Cinnamon Toast Crunch to just openly jump back and forth from “it is unblended cinnamon and sugar” (admission that it came from the facility) to saying that this did not happen in our facility period is amazing. I get it, they were trying to imply that whatever happened, did so after the package left the plant. But they did not do a very good job at conveying that message. Therefore, we do not assume, we certainly do not lie, and most importantly, never start a Twitter spat with a professional. Great advice, really good article.

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