Abbott and the formula shortage dominated May’s brand coverage

June 14, 2022

Written by Benedict Nicholson

Abbott, the healthcare company whose baby formula recall in February contributed to a shortage of formula in the US this spring, saw a massive spike in attention to coverage linked to its struggles and the consequences, and a story mentioning the brand was the most engaged single piece of coverage about big US brands in May.

This comes from our recent analysis of the top 250 stories about big US brands, featuring the Fortune 100 brands and other household names. You can look at the data behind the analysis in our accompanying piece here.

Articles about the baby formula shortage appeared 15 times among the top articles (6%), but represented 9% of the total engagement of those stories, meaning that they overperformed with the public collectively amidst a national crisis. 

Interestingly, most of the stories focused on the shortage rather than Abbott’s role in it, at least in the headline, often only noting the company’s role in the body of the article. There were two notable exceptions to this, one from CNBC about Abbott striking a deal with the FDA to reopen the factory that was originally shut down (19.3k), and one from NBC News about how long it could take to get formula back in stores from the facility (10k engagements). 

The narrative about Abbott’s role in the formula shortage was largely avoided then, or mentioned in passing, while more pressing, immediate concerns were addressed in the pieces themselves, such as how to get emergency supplies, or stories of people attempting to make their own in dangerous ways.

Other key learnings from May’s brand coverage 

Here are some of the other things we learned from our analysis. 

1. Musk sucks up all the oxygen from brands coverage 

While the baby formula shortage was a huge concern for parents, the month of May was dominated by a backdrop of Elon Musk, whose roles as Tesla CEO, prospective Twitter owner, and social media provocateur saw him and his businesses covered almost 80 times in the top 250 stories, making up almost exactly a third of them. 

The public interest even outpaced the media interest, with articles about Musk and Tesla/Twitter responsible for about 39% of the engagement to the top stories. Much of this was focused on Musk’s own comments on social media, rather than anything tangible about the brand, but does go to show the level of influence a CEO of Musk’s profile can have.

2. Product showcases resonate

Another theme among the top stories was products being highlighted — both positively and negatively, and this was especially true of local brands and creators seeing success nationally. 

A few notable examples included Target partnering with queer-owned brands to create two new collaborations, a Black-owned ice cream brand expanding into Walmart and Target, and a father-son duo whose hot sauce was being picked up by national retailers

These all saw success, with Target’s piece having more than 100k engagements, the Black-owned ice cream founder spotlight 26k, and the hot sauce business 28k.

This kind of symbiosis ends up being good press for both the major retailers and the local producers seeing success, as the chains get praised for supporting locally, while the brands get exposure in the media as well as in the retailer.

3. Niche publishers can win big

Some of the top pieces in the top 250 stories came from publishers you may never have heard of. The names Kids Activities Blog, GV Wire, and Motor 1 may not be household names for everyone, but they had articles with huge amounts of engagements about Costco (21k), Tesla (51k), and Chevrolet (44k) respectively.

This reinforces that successful earned media doesn’t always come from the mainstream outlets, and it’s about meeting the audience where they are, rather than chasing coverage in certain publications for the sake of it.

In short, while Abbott’s coverage may have been the biggest individual piece of news, there was plenty else that happened in May. Once again, if you’d like to see more of the data behind this story, you can see it in our accompanying piece here.

If you’d like to see what news is resonating about your brand, you can get in touch with us here. 

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