If in the world of marketing, authenticity was a city, then Woolworths recently found itself a little on the outskirts of town. Despite all the muscle of Michelle Bridges, Woolies last month was sentenced to exile by the very people who feed it for forgetting one thing – ‘the fresh food people’ shouldn’t poke fun at people who opt to grow ‘fresh food’.
If you’re not across the controversy, in November, Woolies released a new ‘Get Real’ marketing campaign to launch a range of microwaveable meals designed by Michelle Bridges. The intention was to take a jovial dig at healthy stereotypes by demonstrating how easy it is to maintain a healthy diet with its healthy microwaveable alternative.
What actually happened? Bridges ate a handful of dirt and suggested people who grow their own fruit and vegetables are “freaks”.
Well it turns out “garden-growing freaks” have green thumbs, social media channels and a lot of rage.
Needless to say, by the time the 30 second ad had finished, Woolies and Bridges were left scrambling to make good to the millions of consumers they’d thrown mud at.
And while I know you’re thinking – “OMG this girl has smashed out a volley of incredible (and thinly veiled) puns, what a legend” – the issue of brand authenticity is no joke.
According to Dr Paul Marsden, “Brand authenticity is the extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.”
Essentially, what Dr. Marsden is saying is brands are not the property of the organisations who run them; they are the property of the consumer.
In an age of abundant consumer choice and voice, brands don’t need to offer consumers the world and they shouldn’t be cliché or stagnant in personality. They just need to do what they say they will. They need to be clear on who they are and what they do best. They need to be authentic.
Brands that get this balance right are the brands that people want to connect with, that they feel safe with, and ultimately, these are the brands consumers are willing to forgive when they occasionally get things wrong.
At Woolworths, the mission statement is: “To be recognised as the Fresh Food and Grocery retailers of first choice by the community because of our relentless focus upon, superior care and service to our customers; providing superior value… and; providing a safe and friendly environment within we work and shop.”
Via the Michelle Bridges ‘Get Real’ campaign, Woolworths fell out of sync with its mission promise. If authenticity is about practising what you preach then Woolies should have known calling its consumers “freaks” is one way to set fire to the ‘friendly environment’ it claims to have a relentless focus on.
So, what do you think? Has Woolworths forfeited its integrity or should it be forgiven for a poor error in judgement? If you can still remember Dr. Marsden’s definition above, the key words defining brand authenticity are: faithful, true and caring. Perfect and faultless are not included.
I for one am willing to forgive Woolies – even if they think I am a freak for growing capsicums in a flower box at home.