TESCO: Krisekommunikation under hestekødsskandalen

Rasmus Villadsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis has examined Tesco’s crisis communication during their horsemeat scandal in the beginning of 2013. The purpose of this analysis was to uncover how Tesco managed their crisis communication with emphasis on crisis response strategies. In order to explore this and to answer the research question, theories of crisis communication and qualitative data regarding the Tesco crisis were applied. In order to establish a comprehensive analysis, Timothy Coombs’ three-stage model of crisis management was used as a macro model for the entire analysis. This model allowed for a distinction between the three phases, pre-, during, and post crisis. Timothy Coombs’ situational crisis communication theory (SCCT) assisted by the macro model of the rhetorical arena was used to analyze the specific response strategies used by Tesco. Throughout the analysis it was discovered that Tesco used serval response strategies. However, most noticeably was the use of the apology strategy. The apology strategy was analyzed to be the right choice for Tesco due to the fact that the apology strategy accepts responsibility. The acceptance of responsibility was seen as the appropriate strategy for Tesco because of the high level of crisis responsibility attributed by Tesco’s stakeholders. This realization was established on the premise of situational crisis communication theory, which prescribes that an organisation should match its level of responsibility acceptance to the level of responsibility attributed by its stakeholders. However, later on in the analysis it was seen that Tesco used the justification strategy, when they accused the entire food industry of having the same problem with unauthorized horsemeat. This caused a group of independent butchers to file a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who ruled the campaign in a misleading way. The use of the justification strategy was seen as inappropriate because it compromised the authenticity of Tesco’s original apology. Furthermore, the complaint sent to the ASA opened up for the discussion of the limitations of SCCT, with its negligence of heterogeneous stakeholders and crisis dynamics. This resulted in the thesis presenting a new perspective on the usage of SCCT. The perspective dragged on the research of Eric Eisenberg’s strategic ambiguity in combination with the current state of SCCT. The main proposal of the perspective was to urge organisations to explore the possibilities of inconsistent crisis communication. This would allow for the use of customized response strategies to various stakeholder groups, rather than having one universal response strategy for all stakeholders.

EducationsMSc in Organisational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages80