‘Ham’-mered by Diseased Pigs and Disgusting Pizzas

April 30, 2009 Public Relations 2 comments

It was the best of times, it is the worst of times in this tale of two culinary crises.  The first has the potential to be truly cataclysmic, while the second could balloon into a major corporate catastrophe.

How both incidents have rippled through the social media world makes for an interesting study.

The more malevolent and fearsome one is of course Swine Flu, which threatens right now to become a terrifying force crippling both societies and economies. Like previous disease outbreaks like SARS and Bird Flu, the WHO seem to be particularly worried about this one, proclaiming that it has the potential to become a “global pandemic”.

From the US to Mexico, China and now Singapore (which has raised its alert levels from Yellow to Orange), Swine Flu has reared its ugly snout.  Fortunately, both the US and Singapore governments have websites detailing the dos and don’ts.

Interestingly, a major global crisis like Swine Flu appear to be more talked about and discussed in mainstream rather than social media.  Blogs and social media platforms tend to focus more on information sharing and facts, like this excellent scientific one which details the truth about it.

Mashable has a useful step-by-step approach on how you can track it down. On the other hand,  Healthmap has a creaed a useful Googlemap app showing the locations of the afflictions.

pig flu

Even normally light-hearted Boing Boing has a fairly sombre Q&A on Swine Flu.  My good friend Otterman posted two useful pieces about the Swine Flu: here and here.

Apparently, you can’t get it from eating pork (phew!), so don’t give up your bak kut tehs, pork knuckles and sausages just yet…

In contrast, Domino Pizza’s major Youtube snafu garnered a lot of online analysis, debate and discourse, getting two of its employees fired for disgusting, unhygienic actions (like spitting on a sandwich and sticking cheese up their noses).

Through the power of social media, Consumerist even managed to track down the store where the offensive acts were done.  Mediacurves did a fairly detailed analysis of the damage done to the Domino’s brand, and the results were pretty bad.  Domino’s boss Patrick Doyle apologised (see video below) and that did ameliorate the damage somewhat.

[youtube id=”xvg4-E2C8UE”]

Unfortunately, Mr Doyle’s efforts was somehow perceived by some to be insincere, stiff and scripted.  Citing another Domino’s Pizza apology (hmm…. they seem to get into these things), Church of the Customer’s Ben McConnell (citing from Beth) gave us a thumbs up example of how franchise owner Ramon de Leon said sorry in a far more earnest and sincere way.

Incidentally, Domino’s Pizza is probably one of the most social media savvy fast food chains in the world with a Youtube channel, Twitter account, Myspace account and Facebook page.  However, just having all the greatest shiny bright platforms aren’t enough if your chief executive isn’t trained to respond quickly and sincerely to a major crisis of confidence.

To me, what’s interesting about the two ongoing incidents is how social media users have reacted and responded to them.

In the Swine Flu crisis, bloggers, facebookers, mash-upers, and twitterers alike are helping to channel the message across without passing judgement or criticism (well mostly anyway).  Most of the blogs which I come across were fairly factual, using their platforms to clarify any misconceptions about the disease and providing a public service.

The goal is to get the message across to as many people as possible using their channels.  Discourse isn’t quite possible when knowledge of a highly medical condition is partial.

You can also see that the mainstream media, governments and the WHO in particular play critical information dissemination roles in ensuring that the right information gets out in a timely and orderly fashion.  Global pandemics are no laughing matter, and the business of health reporting isn’t one that any citizen journalist, no matter how well-intentioned, can get into quickly.  Better to let the experts give their prognosis and for the rest of us to do our job in channelling these messages to our respective networks. What many Twitterers, Facebookers, and Bloggers have done in this instance is to assist in spreading the word to their respective constituents.

Compare this with the Domino’s Pizza case however, where almost everybody seem to want to weigh in with their opinions, views and suggestions.  While the company has tried (valiantly?) to defend its position and extinguish the flames engulfing its reputation, it hasn’t managed to bring the negative vibes to a complete closure.

The main sources of information did not come from the company (in fact Youtube took down the offending videos, but it was somehow resurrected by cyber sleuthing). Here is citizen vigilantism at its best (or worst).

Hopefully, with time, Domino’s could repair its damaged brand reputation and build a positive customer perception yet again.  While the apology of its head honcho hasn’t come across entirely well, it is still a good step to say sorry in an age of transparency, openness and accountability.

What the company should do is to slowly restore consumer confidence by openly communicating about what it’s doing about kitchen practices to prevent future mischief from occurring again.


1) The Ministry of Health in Singapore has sent an SMS to all with the following message – “MOH Alert lvl Orange. W immed effect, staff who return from Mexico & affected areas (check MOH website for live list) to self-quarantine 7 days n work from home.” It looks like the Swine Flu is getting serious as this is only the second time we get such a public service message.

2) Kevin Lim pointed out that a too much information and lead to growing ignorance via this article in Wired by Clive Thompson. I guess this could have some relevance for the H5N1 virus and its methods of transmission if information is spread without checking back to the relevant authorities.

3) Rambling Librarian Ivan Chew tells you how to seive the wheat from the chaff (or the music from the noise) in this post, and who you really should trust and believe in during times of crisis.
By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. One colleague of mine insisted that eating pork may expose us to the virus … lol. Well, that got me stopped eating pork for like a good couple of days (just in case!). I know, it makes no sense …

    Personally, I hope that this episode with Swine Flu will not hit the world’s economy too badly. Looks like a double whammy to the West. Subprime and then a flu outbreak that they are less prepared than countries and cities like Hong Kong and Singapore.

  2. hmm so I think it’s not wise for us to travel overseas now.. My relatives from U.S are supposed to come SG to stay with us this month, I wonder if there is any change of plan. It might cause a lot of inconveniences for them since they come from the affect area. Worse, what if we get quarantined! 😛

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