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Home » Community, Engagement, News, Social Media News, social media screw-up

Did food retailer Waitrose set itself up for a #fail?

Submitted by on September 19, 2012 – 8:12 am8 Comments

Beloved by upper middle classes across the nation, food retailer Waitrose has nothing if not a solid reputation as the UK’s ‘well to do’ supermarket chain, stocking an array of organic, responsibly-sourced and exotic groceries, the quality of which is reflected in its prices.

To be sure, there is a tangible divide between Waitrose’s affluent, 4X4 driving customers and the blue and white stripe brigade frequenting Tesco, so when the brand rolled out its #WaitroseReasons hashtag yesterday, it was met with the proverbial wringing of hands and rolling of eyes, and the Twittersphere cracked out the (organic?) popcorn to watch the inevitable social media disaster unfold.

Well, you can imagine how it panned out:

Even the brand’s Facebook page bore the brunt of the ill-considered drive, although how much of that was down to the excitement of Waitrose posting content that didn’t start with ‘CLICK LIKE IF…’, cannot be determined (seriously, go and see what we mean).

Another social media #fail on behalf of another clueless brand blindly hurtling around the social sphere, right? SIGH.

Well, maybe not, actually. Take a look at this:

That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, isn’t it? Wait, is it possible that a brand as well-to-do as Waitrose might actually have been poking fun at itself? After all, the fact that its main demographic is clearly minted can’t have escaped its notice, and I’m sure that – despite its groan-inducing punt at Facebook engagement – the brand will pay at least some heed to the comments it receives? Comments such as:  “Can we expect the purple organic to be a regular vegetable fixture at my local branch?” and “I prepared this recipe before my weekly country walk this weekend – it was perfect for afternoon tea!”. I’m sure these sorts of comments hold some vital clues as to the typical Waitrose customer, yes.

So then, why incite a potential PR disaster? Well, for a start, Waitrose has a pretty squeaky-clean responsibility record, so there was no chance of the hashtag being hijacked by campaigners protesting slave labour, animal cruelty or environmental destruction. The majority of the hashtag hijacks were done in jest, or satirically. As Waitrose itself pointed out: ‘funny’.

Also, as news of the ‘hijacking’ spread around the web, intrigued onlookers flocked to the Waitrose Facebook page and Twitter stream to see what the fuss was about. Yep, there were any number of amusing – and indeed sometimes scathing – responses and twists on the campaign, but there were also a huge number of genuine replies, from dedicated customers that honestly love the brand. Wading through those in order to get to the funnies is advertising in itself. Certainly as I was scrolling through today the words ‘fresh’, ‘organic’, ‘responsible’, ‘clean’, ‘customer service’ and ‘choice’ were burned onto my retinas, and I – like many others, I’m sure – will no doubt recall that the next time I’m standing in line at my local bargain grocery store with a basket full of sad, wilted vegetables and a grumpy teenager behind the till. As this Twitter user sums up:

 

Editor’s Note: Learn from the digital pioneers, brands like Coca-Cola, Carnival Cruises, Whole Foods, Vodafone and scores of others. Their social media blunders – in the areas of crap customer service, plain dumb marketing or simply being caught short in a crisis – provide valuable lessons from which to shape future corporate comms policy. It all can be found in our new e-book, #FAIL: The 50 Greatest Social Media Screw-Ups and How to Avoid Being the Next One. Buy the book today on Amazon UK, Amazon or on Lulu where you can find it in paperback and epub.

 

8 Comments »

  • Ella says:

    I personally enjoyed the way this panned out and I think it was far more effective (i.e. greater level of engagement and reach) than it would have been otherwise! And, as you said, the replies just drummed home the association of quality (and hummus and 4x4s) with the Waitrose brand :)

  • Alistair says:

    I agree, it’s not all bad for Waitrose even though this surely wasn’t what they were expecting!

    I’ve tried to put together a few tips for how brands can avoid seeing their hashtag go wrong, will be interested to know your thoughts:

    Hashtag Harmony or Hashtag Hell? 6 tips for how to make hashtags work for brands

    http://bit.ly/Ryy5ph

  • [...] This led some, like Social Media Influence, to ask if it were possible that a brand as well-to-do as Waitrose might actually have been poking fun at itself? “After all, the fact that its main demographic is clearly minted can’t have escaped its notice, and I’m sure that – despite its groan-inducing punt at Facebook engagement – the brand will pay at least some heed to the comments it receives? Comments such as: “Can we expect the purple organic to be a regular vegetable fixture at my local branch?” and “I prepared this recipe before my weekly country walk this weekend – it was perfect for afternoon tea!”. I’m sure these sorts of comments hold some vital clues as to the typical Waitrose customer, yes,” according to SMI. [...]

  • Simon Quance says:

    If self-deprecation wasn’t a starting strategy it was a good response and proves the business (or its social team) maybe understand the value of humanising their organisation through social channels. Maybe its a “British thing”, but the ability to have a laugh at yourself (when the stakes are quite high) is something we can excel at – you hear it on Radio 4 everyday. Oh – and the radio station of choice for Waitrose shoppers is? – probably Radio 4.

  • Karl Roche says:

    Oh totally agree. Most of the tweets have been jokes that have been around for ages. Most weren’t that original. Indeed, some people probably shop there exactly for the perception others have of it.

    Whether that was the plan or strategy it doesn’t matter, they thought on their feet and handled the situation well if it was supposed to be a very serious attempt to create some buzz.

    Getting rather bored of all the fail shouting by people on twitter.. have been for a while.

  • martin says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Waitrose got exactly what they expected.
    It’s dead easy to have a pop at a brand on social media and to be ‘witty’ at someone else’s expense but if, like Waitrose, you are pretty much squeaky clean there isn’t much to fear.
    The jibes and ‘jokes’ show up for exactly what they are and it’s fairly straighforward to draw some sensible conclusions from what’s left.
    I think we’re too ready to cry ‘fail’, their response seems to be pretty well-judged to me.

  • david russell says:

    I love Waitrose, in fact the whole John Lewis brand is in my top 3.

    But please don’t flatter them. They had no idea this would happen. I know marketing departments. It was a balls up.

    But hey, it could just be that Waitrose don’t need any social engagement of this sort anyway. People go there because it’s a good company with a good product.

    The reaction from Waitrose was good of course, but they should concentrate on their core product. The rest will take care of itself.

  • [...] of asking the public what they think, only to become the subject of ridicule. In my opinion, the Waitrose campaign was no negative thing – we are all still talking about it and they gained some real [...]

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