I love Waitrose's advertising, its dark green trucks and the fact that for years it has operated the original ‘price match promise’ in ‘never knowingly undersold.’ I even like the fact it is associated with Ocado, which also seems to have pulled off the trick of hiring unfailing, intelligent, pleasant and helpful people whilst telling you that its delivery vans are speed limited or run on bio fuel in an amusing manner.
Does that make me middle class? I really hope so, given my family spent generations escaping the slog of manual farm labour and textile industry serfdom by a devotion to night school and the chasing of scholarships.
Not everyone wants to be thought of as middle class, of course. So when Waitrose recently mounted a social media marketing campaign asking people if they liked the brand, it should have known it would get a barrage of class-conscious, sniping and poking fun at the supposedly smug devotees of the supermarket. That and some absolutely cracking humour. It’s just too tempting, this is Britain after all.
But was this a grand social media cock-up? In the modern history of PR there are a series of campaigns judged by marketing commentators to be less-than-successful - even Hoover-air-ticket-like disasters - associated with social media. Just ask McDonalds about #McDStories or Qantas about #QantasLuxury they’d say.
Whether the Waitrose team realised this or decided that such a campaign was actually ‘on brand’ only they know, but it’s certainly caused more heat than light amongst columnists and Twitterati. They believe that Waitrose has, at a stroke, hobbled its recent attempts at making itself more accessible to people who may not have owned a Volvo. Or a Labrador.
Perhaps on this occasion, though, this cacophony of opinion (of which this is just another example, of course) misses the point.
It’s a mistake to believe the #WaitroseReasons campaign exists as a way to drive conversations, ‘likes’ or increase the number of followers the brand has on Twitter. 20-something `social media gurus’ may think this to be the case. Not me. Life and business experience, as well as knowing a fair bit about social media, has taught me that such a campaign only exists to build the brand and increase sales through getting existing shoppers to shop more frequently or attract new customers. If it has achieved that then it has succeeded, If it has not, it has failed. It’s binary, or as the great Russian meerkat marketer would say, ‘Simples.’
So, has the campaign inadvertently reinforced perceptions of Waitrose as the posh, snobby, overpriced, frankly up-itself preserve of the Barbour, Boden and Hunter wellies brigade? Or has it succeeded, lifting further an iconic brand in the public’s imagination with human warmth and the absolutely essential British marketing trait of both being able to laugh at itself and reach those with closet aspirations. Like classic campaigns from Heineken, Holstein Pils or Stella Artois? Time – and the next set of trading figures - will tell.
That reminds me, must jump in the Audi and pop up to Chiswick High Road branch to get for some artisanal organic kibbled oat flakes for Araminta and Jocasta, the three-legged gerbils we rescued from a council estate somewhere outside the M25. Just kidding, even I’m not that middle class - the gerbils have a full complement of limbs.
A version of this article appeared recently on chameleonpr.com