“One may outwit another, but not all the others.” – Francois La Rochefoucauld
Several days ago, the General Mills corporation tried to pull a fast one on consumers. It seems they silently altered their legal terms to state that consumers give up the right to sue them by interacting with the company in various ways like downloading coupons, and “liking” them on Facebook. But the Internetz noticed. And it’s a damned good thing because, as it turns out, boycotting them would have meant a lot more than giving up my breakfast of champions, which traditionally consists of a standard rotation between Count Chocula, Franken Berry and Lucky Charms cereals.
General Mills, Inc. is a Fortune 500 company, based in Golden Valley, Minnesota, which can trace its roots back as far as 1856. They currently boast assets of almost $23 billion dollars, equity in the area of $7 billion and well over 35,000 employees. In addition to their well known, popular breakfast cereal line, they market brands such as Betty Crocker, Green Giant, Pillsbury, Jeno’s, Old El Paso, Nature Valley and Häagen-Dazs, thus representing every important section of the (my) Food Pyramid. A true American success story.
So why the sneaky attempt at quashing consumer litigation? Well, it seems that General Mills gets sued. A simple Google search shows results of several class action suits, primarily for alleged misrepresentation in their advertising. It seems that not everyone believes the claim that Nature Valley bars are 100% Natural.
But are there any Fortune 500 companies that don’t get sued? We live in a litigious society and legal departments are an accepted, and expected, cost of doing business. Can attempts at legal recourse be curtailed or prevented because we downloaded a coupon for Cocoa Puffs? According to many legal scholars who reviewed the changes, probably not. If General Mills thought that their altered Legal Terms would withstand court tests, they should fire their entire legal department.
As for their Marketing/Social Media Department, well, I’m willing to cut them some slack. I for one never read those lengthy, mumbo-jumbo legal terms on any website, so they can be excused for thinking no one would notice.
It has long been known that one of the biggest lies on the internet is “I have read and agree to these terms” (which I believes ranks a close second behind “Yes, I’m single”). I can’t help but wonder about, or be concerned for the mental health of the first person who noticed the changes and blew the whistle.
But rest easy. Almost as quietly as the changes were made, General Mills succumbed to the social pressures and reverted back to their original legal terminology. Late on a Saturday night, before a holiday. When most business newsies are asleep and dreaming of their morning breakfast of Fiber One.
Another win for the internet.
Now, can we please have a public outcry and campaign to bring back my beloved Kaboom cereal? General Mills discontinued it many years ago. No doubt on the advise of their incompetent Legal Department.