General Mills recently garnered some attention over a change to its legal terms. The Fortune 500 company, which owns brands like Pillsbury, Betty Crocker and Green Giant, added language to its legal terms that bars anyone who buys their products or has ever received any benefits from the company (downloaded a coupon, “liked” them on Facebook) from suing them. Instead, those with complaints are now required to go through “informal negotiations or through binding arbitration.” Basically, even if you are harmed by one of their products—say, because they failed to mention that it contained peanuts on the label—you cannot sue.
Aside from the fact that the only people who would logically want to sue the company would be consumers, the changes are a terrible PR move. It comes off like exactly what it is—an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for their products. Something that, as a brand, should be pretty high on your list of priorities.
It would be a much worse PR move if people knew about it, but thus far neither MSNBC, CNN nor Fox have covered the story. Still, a New York Times article is quite a bit of publicity, and sites like Business Insider have picked up the story as well. Consumer outrage at big corporations tends to be a pretty easy story to sell nowadays, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the story gained more traction.
The message General Mills is sending is a real-life example of the cartoonish salesmen we see in movies: it’s all about the sell. Once you buy it, it’s your problem. Kind of like a cereal version of The Wolf of Wall Street. Further, it undermines the credibility of their shared value and charity campaigns, which are actually a good example of brand management.
How this pans out, and whether the policy holds up in a court of law, remains to be seen. But it serves as a reminder of how everything your company does is part of its brand.