Crock-Pot plot twist shows pop's power to burn brands

Image: Milo Ventimiglia as Jack on "This Is Us."
Milo Ventimiglia as Jack on "This Is Us." Copyright Ron Batzdorff NBC
Copyright Ron Batzdorff NBC
By Ben Popken with NBC News
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The Crock-Pot kerfuffle may just be a social media hit and run — but other brands suffered after negative connotations on the big and small screen.

Crock-Pot isn't the first product to suffer from a pop-culture pot shot.

Twitter is ablaze with users saying they're going to toss out their slow cookers after a Crock-Pot was part of a big plot twist on NBC's "This is Us" on Tuesday night.

Because of the code of "no spoilers" you'll have to watch to find out exactly why. But the Newell Brands-owned device finds itself in bad company after the callout on one of the hottest shows on television.

Merlot sales dipped 2 percent after Paul Giamatti's character in the popular wine-soaked 2004 flick "Sideways" dissed the varietal just because his ex-wife liked it, according to a Sonoma State University study. Pinot noir, on the other hand, rhapsodized in the film as "the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet," shot up 14 percent.

Following their villainous turn in the '70s blockbuster "Jaws," sharks were nearly hunted to extinction. The author of the book the story was based on later expressed regret for his role in turning opinion against the commercially fished sea creature.

And after comedian Patton Oswalt in 2007 made the late-night talk show rounds mocking the KFC "Famous Bowls" as a "failure pile in a sadness bowl," the chain's average sales per unit dipped, dropping from 994 million to a trough of 933 million. The CEO of KFC's parent company addressed the issue later that year in an interview with Fast Company.

But is it correlation, causation or coincidence? Other experts contend that merlot prices were already on the decline after growers planted too many merlot grapes following their '90s boom. Art is subjective and so is life, especially when it imitates art.

Experts say any backlash the Crock-Pot brand is facing will be short-lived and mild.

The Levick crisis and reputation management firm analyzed the social media reaction and concluded that "all the responses are jocular; people aren't taking this seriously," CEO Richard Levick told NBC News.

Instances like the Crock-Pot twitter kerfuffle are "social media hit and runs," Drew Kerr, president of Four Corners Communications, a public relations consultancy, said.

"Sometimes when these social media outrages happen they go for a day or two, people are outraged ... and it's on to the next thing," Kerr said.

The Crock-Pot became a bit of a sensation in the '70s as more women entered the workforce and it became a time-saving way for families to easily prepare a hot meal. Slow cookers have seen a resurgence in recent years with the Instant Pot, which combines aspects of a slow cooker with other features, becoming one of the surprise hot gadgets of 2017.

While the chance of an accident involving a slow cooker is low, according to the National Fire Protection Association, they recommend inspecting them for frayed or broken cords. More recent models of slow cookers also boast safety features like auto-shutoff timers and heat sensors.

A spokesperson for Crock Pot's parent company, Newell Brands, released a statement to NBC News.

"Crock-Pot understands the concerns brought up by last night's episode of 'This Is Us,' and we too are heartbroken by the latest development in Jack's storyline. However, it is important that our consumers understand and have confidence that all Crock-Pot slow cookers exceed all internal testing protocols and all applicable industry safety standards and regulations as verified by independent third-party testing labs. For nearly 50 years with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night's episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible."

"In addition, and most relevant to the concerns consumers are having after watching the recent 'This Is Us' episode, our Crock-Pot slow cookers are low current, low wattage (typically no more than 200 or 300 watts) appliances with self-regulating, heating elements. The product is designed to cook foods over a longer period of time at low temperatures and the switches connect to only 1 side of the power line voltage, so there is never a high voltage applied directly across our switches. The switches within our slow cookers are subjected to additional internal testing, which includes a Rotary Knob Endurance test, Rotary Knob Force Test and Flame Burning Test and constructed of self-extinguishing, flame resistant material."

"Our hope is that the team at NBC's 'This Is Us' will help us in spreading factual information regarding our product's safety. While we know their primary mission is to entertain - something they have continued to excel in - we also feel they have a responsibility to inform. Just like many fans, we will be watching next week's episode to see how Jack's story progresses and, regardless of the outcome, we want consumers first and foremost to know they are safe when using their Crock-Pot."

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