Australian breakfast spread brand AussieMite is the latest brand to make a social media blunder when consumers united against its latest advertising campaign.
Australian Catholics were up in arms over the weekend about the controversial AussieMite campaign which shows a person taking part in the Catholic practice of communion, dipping a sacramental water wafer into AussieMite to the shock of the church priests. The advertisement ends by labelling the spread as “sacrilicious”.
The campaign comes as the Catholic Church is under fire in Australia for sex abuse scandals. Many Catholics took to AussieMite’s Facebook and Twitter profiles to broadcast their complaints.
Some consumers have publicly pledged to stop buying AussieMite and urged companies to stop selling the product, while other Australians have posted their own support for the brand by recognising the campaign was intended to be humorous.
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When responding to the complaints, AussieMite said it wasn’t intending to offend consumers and the ad was designed to be humorous and reflect “how delicious AussieMite is”.
As a showing of how badly the campaign has backfired on the brand, AussieMite’s Facebook page currently has 320 likes, while the Goodbye AussieMite page has grown to over 1000 likes since May 30, 2013.
On Saturday, June 1, AussieMite made the decision to remove the campaign from its social media channels and apologised to consumers.
“We sincerely apologise for any offence caused. It was never the intention to do so, but we recognise that for some it did,” he said.
“We have listened to your comments and removed any and all instances of the campaign from our social media channels,” AussieMite posted on Facebook.
Creative partner at Sydney agency Grown-Ups, Mick Hunter, who helped create the advertisement in question, told SmartCompany the company had anticipated some people could be offended, but that was not the idea.
“It came from the idea of the product being so delicious people couldn’t wait to eat it in inappropriate places – a funeral, a wedding or in this case a church.”
“We did know it might offend some people, but we thought it was just a humorous concept and certainly didn’t anticipate this kind of reaction” he says.
The campaign was originally going to be launched in Britain following its Australian release, but following the backlash Hunter says it’s unlikely to go ahead and no new campaigns have been planned.
“We’re all just a bit taken a back at how vindictive a lot of people can be. There is now a Facebook page designed to take down the company and that’s not a very Christian thing to do,” he says.
Hunter says since the ad’s launch he’s received phone calls and abusive emails on top of the complaints on social media.
“I’m obviously sorry for the hurt that has been caused to people, but we were never set out to do that,” he says.
AussieMite founder Roger Ramsey told SmartCompany the ad was not directed at any religious order and he hadn’t anticipated the “overwhelming strength of emotion”.
“We’ve put forward an apology and reinforced this by requesting the ad be removed from social media. The ad was never intended to offend anyone,” he says.
Ramsey says AussieMite did not have a strategy in place to respond to the criticisms, but it tried to deal with the backlash “as best we could”.
Future campaigns are in the pipeline for AussieMite, but Ramsey says these will be vastly different to “sacrilicious” ad.
Social media expert and co-founder of online reputation management group SR7, James Griffin, told SmartCompany AussieMite has done “the right thing” by listening and responding to its online community.
“AussieMite has used social media effectively to communicate with people who have taken issue with the advertisement and they’ve done the right thing by listening to the comments from the Australian public.
“Some checks and balances should have been in place before the ad was promoted, but they’ve done a good job in listening,” he says.
Griffin says this is a further example there needs to be a shift in understanding within the advertising industry.
“The days of putting up a billboard or marketing campaign that won’t receive feedback are over, you need to have mechanism and procedure in place to quickly address feedback if it goes pear-shaped.”
“People have a very direct method of letting brands know how they feel and often it’s a lot easier to comment on a Facebook page or Twitter account if you’re angry, than if you’re feeling good,” he says. “
Woolworths was also praised by experts this year for its rapid response to consumers on social media after a billboard labelling a donut as fresh food went viral.