With its post-Ooshies Discovery Garden campaign, Woolworths may have outsmarted us all

Woolworths' Ooshies campaign was irresponsible. But in its launch of Discovery Garden, right after the Future Landfill campaign depicting Ooshies in landfill, Woolworths may have outsmarted us all, explains Underground Communications' Karen Porter.

The cynic in me has been piqued this past week.

Like most people, my online feed has been filled in recent months with posts about bits of plastic in the shape of lions. I’ve been, in equal measure, appalled (why, yet again, are we having to put up with corporate irresponsibility?) and flabbergasted (there are people out there for whom useless bits of plastic hold great value and excitement?)

Then, enter a new aspect to the conversation in the form of futurelandfill.org. If you haven’t come across this, it’s a superb campaign to urge people to sign a Change.org petition against Woolworths’ irresponsible Ooshies campaign, designed to encourage people to spend more money. Naturally, I signed it.

An example of the Future Landfill imagery

And then, to make this campaign even more powerful, there’s an alternative solution as to what Woolworths could have done instead, involving compostable, collectable, shareable lion cards infused with seeds that kids can plant.

So, why the cynic? When I first saw this campaign, I jokingly mentioned that I almost believed it was initiated by Woolworths. Then, lo and behold, within a week, Woolworths announced its new collectibles campaign, Discovery Garden: plants to help kids learn about growing their own food. They are the “Fresh Food People” after all.

Now, while it’s totally credible that this beautifully-crafted and expertly-executed Future Landfill campaign (which I absolutely love) was independently created as a protest by two adland guys with a conscience, there are a couple of reasons I think otherwise.

The new Discovery Garden campaign

Firstly, the Future Landfill campaign focuses only on the Woolworths Ooshies and completely ignores Coles’ Little Shop campaign that is surely creating an equal amount of despicable plastic landfill. True, the aesthetics of the Future Landfill campaign really only work with the Lion King theme, but stick with me here.

Knowing how long it takes to pull a campaign together, Woolworths announcing a brand new initiative that will launch in a few weeks in direct response to Future Landfill seems unlikely.

Now, I could be way off the mark here, but it seems to have panned out far too smoothly in my mind. Whether this was lucky timing or a genuinely fast response to consumer sentiment, kudos for owning a new, more responsible business direction.

I suspect that the Ooshies campaign was locked in place with Disney long before the consumer backlash began against the original Coles Little Shop campaign. So, responding to outcry against a super-slick counter-campaign you can’t back out of with a new, perfectly-aligned campaign is a great approach.

If Woolies had simply announced its new plant giveaway without the Future Landfill campaign preceding it, it wouldn’t have resonated as deeply. The impact and interest in the new campaign is much greater when it looks like Woolworths is listening to the will of the people, even though it doesn’t reference Future Landfill at all.

It’s clear that Woolworths is intent on differentiating itself from its main competitor, Coles. When you operate in a duopoly, rather than trying to target the same customers based on price, you’re going to be much more effective at establishing loyalty if you can clearly define your values and resonate with a particular audience.

Woolies has definitely been displaying a focus on more sustainable business practices, having recently appointed a consultant to manage its circular economy programs, and gradually implementing more sustainability initiatives such as its recent announcement to divert 100% of unused food from landfill, suggesting a real desire to connect with a growing consumer base that makes purchasing decisions based on social and environmental impact.

All of this leads to the conclusion that Woolworths has cleverly leveraged a negative situation into something positive that generates awareness, captures attention and educates consumers.

In its new campaign, Woolworths is stepping away from the Ooshies, and becoming an agent of change. It’s the circle of life.

Karen Porter is the founder and creative director of social impact-led communications agency, Underground Communications


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