Japan's Kanebo battles to rescue brand after skin-blotch scandal

Japan's Kanebo battles to rescue brand after skin-blotch scandal

TOKYO - Japanese cosmetics giant Kanebo faces a tough battle repairing its brand image with consumer confidence at "rock bottom" after its products left ugly blotches on customers' faces, observers say.

Japan's second-largest cosmetics firm - more than a century old and with its reputation for quality now in tatters - can recover, they say, but it has to move swiftly and surely.

Kanebo's travails are the latest in a long line of public relations disasters that have felled companies of all sizes.

Among the casualties are Boeing's troubled Dreamliner jet and automaker Toyota, which was forced to recall millions of cars in recent years over safety issues.

A tainted milk scandal in China that left six children dead and sickened more than 300,000 badly scarred the country's dairy industry.

Key to surviving brand-damaging episodes is a quick response that is transparent and genuine, public relations experts say.

"Don't simply broadcast information - like many Japanese companies do - but promote two-way communication with all stakeholder groups" including customers, said Daniel Fath, vice president of Tokyo-based Total Communications System.

"Handled properly, a traumatic crisis becomes a valuable learning experience that ultimately strengthens a company's relationships with its stakeholders."

In an effort to put a stop to a spiralling PR disaster, Kanebo's president went before the cameras this week to apologise to customers.

They included nearly 10,000 people left with uneven pigmentation after using its skin-whitening creams, which are popular among women across Asia in search of lighter tones.

The embattled executive pledged to overhaul safety controls at the company while temporarily cutting his salary and that of other senior executives.

But his bid to defuse the situation came as a team of external experts appointed by the firm said it had been late in issuing the recall.

The decision to pull their products from shelves came months after officials had received warnings from doctors who suspected a link between patients suffering skin blotches and the firm's products.

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