Supermarket giant Woolworths could have easily avoided the controversy around its latest marketing campaign involving celebrity trainer Michelle Bridges, according to an expert in crisis communications.
Late last week Woolworths received a barrage of criticism over a series of videos promoting the supermarket’s new frozen meal range.
In one video, Bridges eats a handful of dirt before saying that healthy eating “doesn’t mean you have to act like a freak”.
Customers were quick to slam the video on social media platforms, describing the ad as “disgusting” and “shameful”.
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“Last night I ate beans straight from my garden when I should have microwaved some crap-laden processed food,” another person wrote on Facebook.
“Thank god Michelle Bridges has shown me the error of my ways.”
Woolworths said in a statement posted to its Facebook page it never intended to upset people.
“We’ve listened to your feedback about the latest Michelle Bridges video and have removed it,” Woolworths said.
“Our intention was never to upset anyone. As the fresh food people, we know how passionate our customers are about fresh food. We share their passion and want everyone to eat healthily – whether they grow their own or choose healthy foods from our supermarkets.”
Michelle Bridges also addressed the criticism on her Facebook page by posting a public apology.
“Our intention with our ads for Delicious Nutritious were to poke fun at myself and what many see as my completely fictional perfect life,” Bridges wrote.
“There was never any intention to offend and for this we sincerely apologise.”
The marketing misstep by Woolworths comes just seven months after the supermarket copped backlash over its Anzac Day advertising campaign that used the tagline “fresh in our memories”.
What can small businesses learn from the backlash?
However Nicole Matejic, a specialist in crisis communications, told SmartCompany controversy seemed to be the goal of the campaign, and that proved a mistake.
“If their strategy is to call people a freak, they’re provoking controversy and want that backlash,” Matejic says.
“Nobody would put that to print after any kind of market research or focus group testing without realising they would get backlash. Maybe that was their strategy.
“But courting controversy as a PR strategy is fraught with danger because you can quite easily miss the mark.”
Matejic says the customer backlash does not come at a good time for Woolworths, given the supermarket giant’s battle with Coles is in the public eye.
“This marketing campaign conflicts with their corporate messaging,” Metejic says.
“Businesses launching marketing campaigns of this significance should be doing market research beforehand to avoid this problem.”