Can you hear the Down Under lyrics being rewritten?
“He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite ice cream …”
Vegemite’s marketing and PR team must be pleased with the spike in brand mentions since it began sharing a story yesterday about a Vegemite icy pole.
— Vegemite (@Vegemite) December 13, 2017
Apparently, it’s caused Twitter to “meltdown” (which doesn’t seem hard these days although tweeters might have something different to report). It’s been a topic on morning shows like Sunrise evening panels like ABC’s The Drum and throughout News Ltd mastheads, to name a few MSM spaces.
It’s not a product in store, but a recipe, so as a promotional stunt, it’s cheaper than most. There’s no pesky product development, storage, transport, pricing, sales or launch to deal with.
Yet it’s not the first time this actual product has emerged – in January this year, a “dessert lab” in Canberra produced Vegemite ice cream for Australia Day. A Victorian ice cream parlour dabbles in the flavour, which it apparently began produced in 2011.
Still, has the stunt fallen flat?
Today, the day after, it doesn’t seem to have maintained momentum. Nobody in my personal network seems to be talking about it; this tweet which Vegemite may have hoped would be more popular, has had just 8 retweets:
TFW you accidentally divide the nation pic.twitter.com/zgyF35e29x
— Vegemite (@Vegemite) December 13, 2017
Vegemite’s Facebook post is faring better.
Regardless, it’s provided another opportunity for Australians to talk about how much they cherish (or loath) Vegemite and put the brand in the spotlight, heading into Christmas and summer time when it might be somewhat irrelevant.
It’s not the first time Vegemite has used controversy to gain attention.
In June 2015, Vegemite teamed up with Cadbury to release Vegemite chocolate. I was one of the consumers who bought a block to see what it would taste like. (Unsurprisingly, the Vegemite taste was quite subtle – it was still all about the chocolate). Again, it was all about the chatter. Like others who took the plunge, I shared images of the improbable Vegemite Cadbury on my social media channels. I shared my thoughts, and the thoughts of my eldest son (who liked the stuff and wanted more). It generated discussion in my own networks, adding to the thousands of comments Vegemite would have generated at the time; as well as widespread media coverage like this and this.
So what happened to Vegemite chocolate? Earlier this year, marketers behind Vegemite chocolate fessed up:
“The purpose of it wasn’t to launch a chocolate with Vegemite that would go into our repertoire, the whole point of the campaign and activity was to generate talk about rediscovering your favourite chocolate flavours”.
Other food brands around the world have had fun with improbable flavours or products. Remember when KFC Hong Kong released KFC-flavoured edible nail polish?
That was created by Ogilvy & Mather, a New York City-based advertising, marketing and public relations agency. They said the “campaign is designed to be intriguing and fun to increase excitement around the KFC brand in Hong Kong.” And unlike an official Vegemite icy pole, KFC really did the nail polish – albeit in small numbers. My searches today don’t reveal any stockists. Darn it all.
Here’s the official KFC launch video for the product – can you make it more than five seconds through?
Arnott’s wasn’t quite as adventurous in March 2016 when it remodelled some of its Shapes flavours, but that move also generated widespread commentary across social media and in the mainstream media.
Some might say there was a public backlash, but there’s another way of viewing it: the campaign generated consumer endorsement, as people took to social media to complain about their favourite flavours being removed, and wail about what Arnott’s Shapes mean to them.
Whatever the true motivation or longevity, these campaigns are rarely the sole provenance of PR or marketing or advertising teams. They’re often developed by a cross-disciplinary team – which of course today includes digital and social media pros.
But when the backlash arrives, as it invariably does, it’s absolutely vital to have PR specialists around the table.
In fact, from the moment any concept like this is seeded, PR professionals are already considering the negative ramifications and how to steer their clients safely through the storm. It’s the size and longevity of that storm which is impossible difficult to predict.
It’s also difficult to predict which Twitter user you’ll encounter on campaign launch day …
- Will it be a cynical but circumspect Twitter that lets the story die with a shrug?
- Or a frustrated, outraged Twitter that lambasts you for f*cking around with the formula, and treating tweeters like suckers?
- And most importantly – which Twitter would the brand prefer?