ANZAC Battle: Woolworths vs. VB

Nick Walters & Jackie Pearson

According to the AIDA model of goals, advertising seeks to gain the consumer’s attention, interest, desire, and action.  But as Woolworths has recently experienced, gaining the attention of consumers does not always lead to a successful marketing campaign.

Woolworths were recently condemned for their online ANZAC Day campaign which encouraged consumers to upload images of war veterans to social media.  The images were then transformed into a commemorative picture with the Woolworths logo and the tagline ‘Fresh In Our Memories’.

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The backlash was swift and ferocious, culminating in the Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, Michael Ronaldson, contacting Woolworths directly and demanding immediate abandonment of the campaign.  Citing the campaign as trivialising the use of the word ANZAC, Senator Ronaldson also noted that the word ANZAC was rarely authorised to organisations without obtaining support and endorsement from the RSL and Legacy. (Mitchell, S. Apr 15 2015)

Woolworths is not the first to seemingly exploit ANZAC Day for commercial benefit.  So why was Woolworths so heavily criticised when other examples of commercialising ANZAC Day seem to be broadly accepted, most notably the VB Raise a Glass campaign?

Whilst a combination of factors contributed to the backlash, the pivotal issue is Woolworths linked their brand far too closely to ANZAC Day through the insensitive use of the ‘Fresh In Our Memories’ tagline.  This of course references Woolworth’s ‘Fresh Food People’ slogan which has been instrumental in growing Woolworth’s market share from 17% in the 1980s to about 43% today.  Therefore ‘fresh’ is intrinsically linked to the creation of the supermarket duopoly that exists today which is typically viewed negatively by the public.

The use of social media here has enhanced the immediacy of impact of the campaign; particularly through a platform such as Facebook, which has the ability to provide an instantaneous feedback mechanism. Giving the user the capacity to select the image has in this case become problematic, in that the photo upload functionality acted as an enabler for negative satire against the campaign. Yeshin (2012, p.13) describes the risk of communication models and messages with this type of consumer interpretability, stating “If the medium selected to convey the message is poorly targeted; if the impact surrounding the noise causes distractions; or if the intended receiver’s prior experience distorts the meaning of the message, then the communications process has failed.”

In contrast, VB’s ‘Raise A Glass’ campaign has been generally accepted by the public, albeit some suggesting that linking alcohol to war veterans is insensitive, due to the prevalence of alcohol related issues in this demographic.  So why is VB’s campaign generally accepted?

The ‘Raise A Glass’ campaign commenced in 2009 after a 1941 WWII photo was discovered in the old Victorian Brewery of soldiers forming a VB symbol from beer bottles. Given this historical lineage, the VB product can be marketed as having a genuine relevance to ANZAC Day.  Its brand positioning is, therefore, significantly more aligned to the values and sentiments of ANZAC Day than Woolworths.

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‘Raise A Glass’ is also positively received because it is a partnership between the RSL, Legacy and CUB.  The endorsement of the RSL and Legacy sits well with the Australian public and confirms the moral and ethical acceptability of the campaign.  But perhaps most powerful of all is the charitable element of the campaign.  Since commencing the campaign VB has donated $5 million to the RSL and Legacy.  VB acknowledges the commercial benefits for the brand and the public seems accepting of this given the significant benefits bestowed upon servicemen and servicewomen.  So was Woolworths biggest mistake that they failed to incorporate a fundraising element into their otherwise commercial activity?

Whilst ‘Raise a Glass’ has undoubtedly enhanced VB’s brand image and delivered commercial benefits, it is questionable as to whether Woolworths mistake has impacted negatively on the brands longstanding image from a commercial perspective.  Gruen Transfer panellist, Adam Ferrier (news.com.au 2015), observes that this negative publicity is merely “a blip in the ocean of consumers’ interaction with Woolworths,” but it is likely that consumer behaviours will swiftly return to normal.

References:

Mitchell, S. Apr 15 2015, ‘Woolworths chastised after Anzac campaign triggered social media backlash’, AFR Weekend, retrieved 1 May, 2015, http://www.afr.com/business/woolworths-chastised-after-anzac-campaign-triggered-social-media-backlash-20150415-1ml9kc

Yeshin, T. 2012, “Integrated Marketing Communications”, Routledge Press, Greenwich, pp.13.

Ferrier, A in Chung, F 15 April 2015, ‘Gruen Transfer panellists review Woolies’ ‘Fresh in Our Memories’ Anzac campaign’, Retrieved 4 May 2015, http://www.news.com.au/finance/business/gruen-transfer-panellists-review-woolies-fresh-in-our-memories-anzac-campaign/story-fnkgdftz-1227305024316

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11 thoughts on “ANZAC Battle: Woolworths vs. VB

  1. Well researched article, I didn’t know much about the VB campaign but of course heard about the Woolworths campaign flop. You always hear about the things people are outraged about, which then brings up the argument is any publicity good publicity. I think all agreed in this case no. I think it was the use of the word “fresh” and the fact that coles and Woolworths have such a stranglehold on their grocery sector, they are always a bit on the nose. I heard the PR company which ran the campaign had to shut down their website to protect their employees from the “trolls”. Such a tricky medium.

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  2. I have to agree with Adam Ferrier here, the poor judgement that Woolworths have executed here wont have a lasting effect even though the ad was in poor taste.

    Woolworths and Coles have dominated over their competition. They offer a convenience that consumers won’t turn away from even when displaying poor judgement in advertising.

    To answer your question, was Woolworths biggest mistake that they failed to incorporate a fundraising element into their otherwise commercial activity? I don’t believe so but I do think it was a contributing factor. I believe that people were outraged that Woolworths saw this as yet another money making opportunity to get their grubby little hands on. They didn’t appear sincere as there is no connection between the company and the ANZACS and the fact that they didn’t add a fundraising element certainly didn’t help.

    The VB campaign presented was quite emotional and a reflective tribute to the ANZACS. As they have an affiliation via sports clubs, etc. the campaign was a welcome one.

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  3. Just watched the VB add….very emotional and poignet and would actually just be a great reflection piece, doesn’t face any backlash as Aussies will drink to anything, Anzac Day especially. Back in the day I was always in the ring having a drink and shouting “head em up!”

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  4. How many VBs are sold on ANZAC day during post march celebrations? Lonking with the RSL & Legacy for a cause is a great strategy, people are touched by that & outraged by commercial exploitation of a day of national significance to cash in. Big difference. Although using Major General Peter Cosgrove in the VB advertising campaign probably leant some more legitimacy to the cause. And I agree with Kathryns point about any publicity is good publicity, not when it was so negative & created such backlash. In the end is this enough to make people change their shopping habits?

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  5. Definately the negative backlash might have impacted woolworths but to what extent only woolworth can tell, the backlash may not be only in monetary terms but in brand image and goodwill also, when I heard about it on the social media the first thing came to my mind is that it is not fair on part of marketing to use thewar veterans to sell their products or to commercialize their patriotism, and an instant second thought that came was that even if they did use them then did they do anything for the veterans or for their beneficiaries kind of funraising activity or charity. May be thats why VB’s campaign was accepted because they raised fund to give to community.

    On part of the IMC issue, when a company is using various channels to deploy a common message across all of them and if the message is not well received by the community or is negatively treated then correcting or changing the message across all the channels not only only becomes complicated and costly but it usually takes times to correct or pull back.This is a drawback of the IMC .

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  6. Great research done there. I never knew about that ANZAC photo with the VB link before. I have always felt that the raise a glass campaign trivialised but having donations giving back does reduce this feeling.

    I guess with the woolworths problem it was mainly a bad choice of words. Perhaps they should have used words the crememorated the memory instead of trying to improve the woolworths brand.

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  7. Not sure how I missed the Woolworths ‘scandal’… but the use of ‘fresh’ is so distasteful. Even had they incorporated a fundraising element to the campaign, there is still something completely NQR about it.
    Your article shows that the ANZACS had a clear link to VB, and RSLs and beer go hand in hand…the beer would remind them of home and would have been quite an indulgence. I doubt the ANZACs were longing to go home and walk down the produce aisle of the supermarket.

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  8. I can understand the backlash about Woolsworths, however I must say tat I don’t think there was any malicious intent on Woolsworth behalf to offend the families of war veterans. Maybe just a lack of thought when they decided to use the word ‘fresh’. Very interesting article contrasting two ‘not-dissimilar’ marketing campaigns with completely different outcomes.

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  9. Thank you for the blog, I learned a lot from it.

    I should say that for me, both ads are exactly the same, both are very disappointing. They both are doing the same, trying to take advantage of a commemorative day, to position and sell their products. But I find very interesting the different perceptions that the community has around that, how Woolworths was highly punished by the public while VB was accepted. And this is also a good way to explain how dangerous can be an advertising campaign if the marketers don’t understand the behaviour and the feelings of the customers that are targeting.

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  10. Good blog. I don’t think it was Woolworth’s failure to incorporate any philanthropy in its campaign that resulted in the backlash. I think most people were outraged at thr affront of what it was – a poorly thought out campaign trying to capitalise on peoples’ heartstrings for a link that simply doesn’t exist. Fresh food and 100 years of ANZAC tradition? Seriously?

    Whilst the link with legacy and the RSL certainly gives credibility to the VB campaign, I think the overriding success, or acceptance, of the campaign revolves around the “endorsement” of General Sir Peter Cosgrove who commands nationwide respect.

    Great marketing vs marketing disaster.

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  11. Enjoyed reading your blog. I wonder how much this actually impacted Woolworth’s bottom line. What’s that old saying? There’s no such thing as bad publicity. Whilst there was an outcry on social and mainstream media, I am not convinced that this actually translated into reduced sales. I agree with Adam Ferrier that this lapse in judgement by Woolworth’s will not have any long term effects.

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