Crisis comms – Juicero

NB Team

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01.06.17, by Sohaib Ahmed

It’s been a rough few weeks for Juicero.

Depending on who you speak to, Juicero is either a darling of Silicon Valley or a cliché of everything wrong with tech. The internet-connected juicing machine company raised nearly $120 million in funding last year. This down to its creation of a $400 juicer (following a price cut from $700) to provide people with the “freshest juice in the world”.

Supposedly the juicer’s benefits include incredible crushing power, efficiency and zero clean-up. Its QR code reader will ensure consumers are always aware of contents and best-by dates. One of the main benefits is the sheer freshness available on tap. Apparently, higher quality produce than you can buy at the shops.

The founders talked themselves up via interviews with the tech media. They made comparisons with Steve Jobs. They declared there are “400 custom parts” in the juicer. The Silicon Valley crowd went wild for it.

But recently two Bloomberg journalists discovered that the Juicero bags (costing $5 – $8) could be squeezed by hand. This gave virtually the same output. Naturally, that’s a bit of a problem when you’re selling a $400 juicer. Even if the only people who can buy the bags are Juicero owners.

The reaction from the media has been somewhat predictable. An internet-connected juicer is bad enough, with examples of internet outages or poor WiFi rendering the unit useless. Couple that with the revelation that the juicer may not even be needed for Juicero packs, and you have a field day for the critical press.

Jeff Dunn, who recently took over as CEO of Juicero, wrote on Medium to defend the company’s approach. The open letter format is nothing new and arguably a nice touch from a CEO trying to diminish the impact of negative press – it’s a good way to cut out the middleman and speak directly to customers.

That said, there are some elements of the letter which could have been improved:

  • Dunn refers to people hand-pressing Juicero bags as “hacking” which several outlets have picked up as sensationalist
  • He also notes that the QR code reader allows the company to disable juicing bags if anything is found to be wrong in the production chain, or in the event of recalls. That’s right. Recalls. Recalls of packs which are essentially prepared by Juicero. Why introduce the concept of a recall given how heavily involved in the production chain Juicero is?!
  • Juicero has made its own video which looks at what is in a pack by cutting one open and manhandling the produce. It’s not exactly pretty. Why not show the raw produce and just how much goes into the process, rather than opening up a bag? The video is a little at odds with the message in the rest of the note. Especially as that video can then be embedded anywhere else and it has zero context (no audio or subtitles) to support Juicero

The offer from Dunn at the end, that the company will refund anyone who sends their unit back, is a great move. The placement of it in the note works well – if the company leads with it then it looks like they’re panicking. While the background about the company and its process is excessive, in this instance it helps to soften the offer.

Dunn also includes his email address, inviting people to contact him with questions or concerns – again, a really nice personal touch. It makes for a strong end to the note – there’s a clear call to action on several counts.

The very concept of Juicero is polarising to the public, so this note won’t win over any critics. It would need to be shorter and include more independent stats about health benefits to have any hope of that. However, it might be good at giving Juicero customers some assurance. Perhaps it will stop the undecided from crossing over into the ‘no’ camp.