Marketing experts have said Woolworths ‘Fresh in our memories’ campaign generated such a huge public backlash because it aligned its brand far too closely to the memories of Anzac war heroes.
Today Carrspace, the experiential agency behind the campaign, has gone to ground referring all requests for comment to Woolworths and removing all links to the brand and Camp Gallipoli project from its website.
The supermarket has faced a barrage of criticism after it released the campaign on social media and was forced to pull down the campaign website after intervention by the Australian Government.
It was derided on social media as Woolworths faced accusations that it was exploiting Gallipoli and Anzac Day for commercial gain. Under the slogan ‘Fresh in our memories’ – a reference to its “Fresh food people” tagline – the campaign invited people to generate memories with the words ‘Lest we forget’ and the Woolworths logo underneath.
Jackie Crossman, chief executive of Crossman Communications said the campaign backfired because Woolworths tied Anzac Day “far too strongly to their brand”.
“Anzac Day is sacrosanct and should be non-commercial,” she told Mumbrella. “There is a place for brands in Anzac Day but you need to be seen doing the right thing and there is a fine line.
“This one stepped over that line by being too heavily commercial and was made worse by tying their brand slogan and brand positioning to it.”
She added that the company “did the right thing” by apologising and withdrawing the campaign so quickly.
“Sometimes people can get it wrong, particularly when there is a fine-line in over-branding and under-branding. Obviously not everyone in Australia got upset over it but they have handled it well, they apologised and they’ve taken action accordingly,” she said.
Ben Davis, executive creative director of creative agency Smart, said brands should steer clear from clearly sensitive issues and blamed the “momentum” that has gathered in recent years of where brands have linked campaigns with the memory of Gallipoli.
“The decision to run with the campaign demonstrates a complete lack of introspection,” he said. “It is immediately apparent that the link between “Fresh memories’ and the ‘Fresh food people’ is insensitive.
“I feel it is the culmination of all the momentum over several years that has been sweeping up brands to align themselves with Anzac. Woolies probably felt they had free reign.”
He said such has been the backlash that the trend of businesses tying their brand to Anzac Day “may have reached a tipping point.
“There needs to be a line about when there is a respectful association for the positive advancement of the legacy and brands where the main point of the association is for commercial profit.
“I don’t feel brands should be aligned with an event which is a sacred part of our history.”
In a blog posting on the subject last year Davis said: “It makes me feel a bit shabby for even being in the industry that seems so eager to use this as leverage, but maybe that’s just me? Probably.”
Comparison to the Woolworths campaign has been drawn with the crusade launched by UK supermarket Sainsbury’s last Christmas, which saw the brand re-enact a scene in the trenches from World War One.
While personally uncomfortable with the Sainsbury’s campaign, Davis said the execution of the TV ad was more “sensitive and sensibly implemented” and featured a donation message at the end of the execution.
VB’s Raise a Glass campaign
According to Barry Urquhart, managing director of Perth-based Marketing Focus, the Woolworths campaign “breached the fundamental tenets of good marketing”, adding it will take three to five years for the firm to recover.
He highlighted a major difference between the Woolworths execution and the TV ads created by VB for its Raise A Glass campaign.
“There is no association or relevance between a supermarket and Anzac Day,” Urquhart said. “It is part of Australian tradition to march in the morning, and go the pub in in the afternoon and reflect over a beer. That is why there is relevance and association for VB.
“What is not part of Australian tradition is to march in the morning and go to the supermarket.”
Woolworths, he added, has been fundamentally associated with the tagline “fresh food people” since the late 1980s, further heightening the overt commercial nature of the campaign.
“They grew market share from 17 per cent to 43 per cent on the back of Fresh campaign and so are intrinsically linked with it,” he added.
“This has exposed the brand to long term damage and will live fresh in the memories of Australian consumer’s for a long time. It will take a remedial campaign of three to five years to win people over.”
Former Ogilvy executive chairman Tom Moult said: “It’s as bad as if Coles had said “Down down in the trenches”. When I saw the Fresh in our memories line it made my toes curl. That was particularly crass.
“Woolworths obviously did the right thing in taking it down but I would stop apologising and now get on with it. Learn from it, but get on with it. The world moves fast and people will move on.”
The criticism has sparked debate over when and what brands should align to, with VB’s campaign also the subject of debate.
A spokesperson defended its campaign, stressing Raise A Glass is a partnership between RSL and Legacy and Carlton & United Breweries.
“Every aspect of the appeal/campaign is done with RSL and Legacy alongside. For example we take a concept or idea to the RSL and Legacy and continue that discussion every step of the way before launch,” she said.
“We acknowledge there is benefit for the brand, but we believe, and are proud of the fact, that there is more benefit for servicemen and servicewomen as the appeal has now grown to become one of the biggest contributors to veterans welfare in Australia.
“CUB donates $1m to the organisations every year as part of this appeal and our website encourages donations from people over and above that amount.”
Other brands have also sought to cash in while several rugby league clubs have issued commemorative shirts.
David said there is a difference between a sports club “which has a sense of community” and a business which ultimately exists to make money.
Target has also been selling a clothing range emblazoned with ‘Spirit of Anzac’ on the front. But a spokesman said it was the official retail partner of Camp Gallipoli and was making no money from sales with all proceeds going to charity.
Woolworths has declined to comment beyond the statement it issued last night it which it said it “regretted” that the campaign had caused offence.
Carrspace, the creative agency behind the campaign, declined to comment when contacted by Mumbrella.
Camp Gallipoli, of which Woolworths is a major sponsor, also declined to comment on the campaign itself but said it “will continue to partner with them to respectfully honour the memory of our war veterans”.