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Rumor Has It That Word-of-Mouth Can Be Dangerous

by Michael A. Kamins  |  
January 1, 2001

Many years ago in Ohio, the McDonald's Corporation was the victim of a nasty rumor. The focus of the rumor was that McDonald's hamburgers contained worm meat in them.

The company made a determined effort to counteract the rumor by posting a letter from the Secretary of Agriculture which claimed that hamburger produced by the effected establishments is "wholesome, properly identified and in compliance with standards prescribed by Food Safety and Quality Service regulations."

McDonalds personnel even utilized public relation statements claiming "It doesn't make sense even from a financial viewpoint. Red worms cost between $5.00 and $8.00 a pound. Hamburger meat costs just over a dollar a pound. You'd have to be nuts to put worms in your hamburgers. You just couldn't afford it."


In spite of these attempts to quell the rumor, it remained strong. This result is not surprising! In fact in many cases where rumor is present, an attempt by the company to stop it by refuting it is not effective.

Other examples include the never ending rumor that Proctor & Gamble is in some form affiliated with the devil, that Pop Rocks candy explodes in kids' stomachs or that a small child was bitten by a snake while her mom was shopping at K-Mart. These are all rumors with not one shred of evidence supporting their truth!

To many business organizations, this may seem appear to be quite troublesome particularly in light of two simple facts. First, the frequency of rumor occurrence is on the rise in the population and secondly, most rumors that are spread are negative in nature. Recent research reports that 92.6% of rumors about companies or brands heard in the past year by consumers were negative in nature.

Negative rumors can happen to any company. It doesn't distinguish between dot.coms or bricks and mortar businesses.

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