I don’t think the marketing team at Kraft Foods Australia is playing any “Men at Work” music these days. Then again, maybe they’re blasting it through the halls.
In case you don’t remember the reggae-influenced 1980s rock group, chances are you’ve heard their song “Down Under,” which contained this classic lyric: He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich.
Welcome to the brave, new world of consumer generated marketing and the great 2009 Vegemite controversy.
First, what the heck is Vegemite? Well, it’s a yeast-based spread that the company says is “one of the world’s richest sources of B group vitamins.” Fine, so what’s all the fuss. Vegemite is an iconic, loved brand in Australia (annual sales are more than one jar per person) and well, consumers can get pretty riled up when they feel that their beloved brand is being messed with. Some Coke veterans in Atlanta can relate.
Australian consumers helped pick the original Vegemite name for the 1923 product launch. Earlier this year, the company took a page from its brand history and decided to have consumers help name a new dairy-based spread with cream cheese, to be s0ld in addition to the original product.
The naming contest was heavily promoted and advertised on television, and had great response: 35,074 people participated; 48,243 names were entered; and of those, 16,071 names were unique.
A public outcry ensued and only four days later on Wednesday September 30th, here’s what Kraft posted on its Twitter page: “New Vegemite = Aussies like the taste, but not the name – Australia and New Zealand will shortly be invited to help us make the right choice.”
Kraft Foods Australia/New Zealand Head of Corporate Affairs, Simon Talbot, explained further via a company press release: “We have been overwhelmed by the passion for Vegemite and the new product. The new name has simply not resonated with Australians. Particularly the modern technical aspects associated with it. Australians and New Zealanders will shortly be invited to help us make a choice. Please bear with us for the next 48 hours as we finalise how Australians and New Zealanders can decide the new name through an independent popularity vote.”
On Friday October 2nd, Kraft announced a new contest on the Vegemite Web site that asked consumers to vote on six names, beginning that same day at 5 pm local time and ending 12 noon local time on Monday October 5th. Here’s how Kraft came up with the new list: “We identified the top three most popular names that can be trademarked by Kraft Foods; we have also included three others from the entries that are worthy of consideration based on consumer feedback.”
Evaluating trademark availability can be a time-consuming task. Unless Kraft Foods completed its vetting during the summer, it’s yeoman’s work to identify new trademark options between Wednesdayand Friday. Although some have claimed a publicity stunt, Kraft’s Talbot specifically said: “At no point in time has the new Vegemite name been about initiating a media publicity stunt.”
We’re all in unchartered territory with consumer generated content/consumer generated marketing! It will be fascinating to see how it plays out in the coming years. If you’re thinking about ways to include consumers or customers within your marketing mix, just remember this: make sure whatever you do is consistent with your marketing strategy and desired positioning, and then be prepared for anything and everything. This Vegemite marketing is action packed for a six-day period. It sure does feel a bit too choreographed. But, what do you think?
Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.
Update October 7, 2009. Kraft Foods Australia announces new name: VEGEMITE CHEESYBITE.
“The new name is VEGEMITE CHEESYBITE,” and “jars will begin to replace iSnack 2.0 on shelves in the coming months. In the meantime, keep enjoying the deliciously different Vegemite on anything, anytime.”
Over the weekend, Quantum Market Research conducted an online and telephone poll, to which more than 30,000 people voted.