Aldi’s unselling approach is the point, and loyalty is the bonus

In response to a piece which called out Aldi's new anti-loyalty card ads for missing the point, Overdose's Rob Cain argues the point is exactly that: loyalty.

Loyalty and truth, secrets and lies, and authenticity — all core and dynamic elements in marketing — are in the spotlight with Aldi’s recent ad taking aim at the integrity of loyalty programs. 

Yet the feisty discussion around Aldi’s ad is missing the central message, mostly defending loyalty programs and questioning Aldi’s effectiveness.

It has missed what both brands and consumers should be taking from it, which is Aldi’s unselling approach and the deeper unselling message — that Aldi delivers what it promises, no more, no less.

By unselling loyalty programs in a market where consumers lap up loyalty programs, Aldi reinforced its loyalty to its customers and their need for cheaper, high quality groceries. It’s also communicating, somewhat radically, that it’s prepared to compromise the frills of the market to focus on value.

Delivering consumer needs is not always simple to achieve. Aldi’s unselling approach comes on the heels of energy company AGL’s “The Art of the Un-Sell” campaign amid widespread mistrust of the energy sector. It is one brands evolving into the digital retail age should adopt: don’t do many things, half well – do one thing exceptionally.

Digital retail is at a boom point in Australia. There are brands, new and established doing amazingly — stalwarts such as The Iconic and Adore Beauty, and newer standouts birdsnest and Show Po, which have built incredible loyalty by doing one thing well and with messages that care more about consumer relationships and clarity of purpose than cleverness.

Brands embracing unselling both in practice and in their messaging are striking gold by tapping into the essentials: listening to consumers, then telling consumers what they don’t do in order to focus on what they do do.

Unselling is both radical and tried and true. Radical because it can, by its very nature, spotlight a brand’s limitations, and yet, in embracing its limitations, essentially eliminate them. Tried and true because the successful unselling brands understand that consumers want transparency and honesty. That is: loyalty.

The unselling approach has evolved with bricks and mortar brands from iconic examples such as Patagonia, which has implored “Don’t Buy This Jacket”, Red Bull selling everything but energy drinks, and 42 Below, the New Zealand vodka brand that “has absolutely nothing going for it.”

The archetype, of course, is Aesop, the Aussie brand that has established its luxury self almost entirely around its lack of advertising. Aesop doesn’t sell hand cream or beautiful oils, it sells — or rather unsells — an experience, by taking advertising out of the experience. Aesop stores, with no advertising, and no pricing, are an unselling nirvana.

In the ecommerce world, Net-a Porter led from day one with its uncluttered message that it does not discount. It is what it is: designer fashion that offers a worldly experience and a luxury feeling. Net-A-Porter is a bellwether for not discounting, it doesn’t need to.

While Aesop and Net-a-Porter lead with unselling in its purest form, there are more and more ways to unsell. New Aussie brands such as The 5th have unsold abundance, selling watches only on the fifth of every month for five days.

Digital darlings Flora and Fauna, number five on the Inside Retail’s Top 50 ecommerce brands, is among more brands unselling profit and focusing on a socially conscious platform.

“Our vision is to drive change so that all global businesses are ethical, cruelty free and conscious in every aspect of their business. If our business becomes less relevant because other businesses are truly doing this we’ve achieved our goal.”

Fashion brand I Am Gia has built a queendom of almost 700,000 followers through styled photographs unselling polished fashion on Instagram — few words, lots of attitude that speaks urban diversity.

These gently disruptive, authentic and provocative approaches are all invaluable unselling tools that will help brands navigate some of the serious, and thrilling, challenges of giving consumers what they need. Unselling allows consumers to see through the frills and the bling, and will inspire brands to be not just “good different” but “exceptionally different.”

Rob Cain is managing director, Sydney, for Overdose.Digital.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.