Marketing Strategy

Horsemeat, trust vacuums and business as war.


Our promise to you is that our products will “taste the difference”. They should also “make a difference”, especially as regards nutrition and management, both for those who will cook and eat food.  This means several things.  As a major player, we have a responsibility, not only for employees and customers, but also for society in general.  Our commitment would include environmental issues in a broader perspective, such as sustainable fisheries and agriculture, where the cultivation of vegetables is approaching the natural balance as much as possible. Working with these kinds of issues is also a promise to you. You should be able to trust that our products are fair, secure and contribute to a positive development of the resources of both the sea and on land. It’s a promise.

Anyone like to hazard a guess which food producer has this statement on their website?

If you guessed Findus, You’d be right.

Ouch.

OK, so this is on the main group site, and translated from Swedish.  The UK site meanwhile has been taken down in favour of a press release in which the firm vows to act to make sure “this cannot happen again”.

One thing I find strange is this line:

We do not believe this is a food safety issue

No Findus, it’s probably not a food safety issue.

But it is certainly a trust issue.

People bought BEEF lasagne.  And you served them Shergar (we did wonder where he’d been all these years.  Now we know – in cold storage).

You don’t fuck with people’s food, money or trust.  This should be business law.

If you buy a bag of apples, get it home and discover that it actually contains potatoes, you’ll either make a mash or take it back for a refund.  Any old fool can tell the difference between the two.

But you can’t tell the difference (or “taste the difference”, apparently”) between horse and cow without a DNA testing kit – so the average Joe/Jolene is powerless and is forced to trust the brand, to trust the packaging.  The same’s true for the tech underpinning our smartphones – we have to trust the brand when they say they didn’t rip off another provider.

And when this trust is blown out of the water as spectacularly as it has been in recent days, what then?

For Findus, I suspect that the damage will take years to repair – and a trust vacuum has opened up.

One which I’ve not yet seen anyone capitalising on.

If Oreo can turn around a black-out ad in a few minutes during the SuperBowl, where’s the creative that’s had weeks to brew?

Local producers – who can draw a line from farm to fork – should be coming out of the woodwork to tempt people back into the farmshop or the local butcher’s.

The big multiples, who have meat counters, should be running in-store or online cookery demonstration using cuts that can be bought from the shop to produce meals that are at least as nutritious as the pre-packaged goods, and for a similar price.

Even the meat-substitute producers seems to be slow out of the gate (Quorn is reporting uplifted sales, but I think that this is incidental rather than the result of any horse-free positioning).

This should be a time of consumer empowerment and epicurean change.

People have been concerned with their food provenance for years.  There’s a big home cooking explosion in the UK.  People are interested in growing their own food in a way that they haven’t been for generations (thanks, Recession).

So why isn’t anyone breaking out the cavalry to capitalise on this?

Why is no one being brave enough to grasp the nettle and drive for a change in the way that the Great British Public relate to the food that they eat?

If ever there was a ‘right time’, it’s now.  There’s a trust vacuum opening up between consumers and packaged foods – one that is screaming to be filled.

It’s frustrating the hell out of me that no-one seems to be brave enough – or sure enough of their own convictions – to make headlines and drive consumer behavioural change.  (If you’re not brave enough, hire me.  I am.  if it goes well, give me a raise.  If it goes badly, fire me.  But what have you got to lose?  Only the chance to be first to market.  And we all know what happens to the ‘also ran’, don’t we?  Findus. Oh, that was low.)

This is Challenger Brand o’Clock. So where are they?

Here’s the lesson for all of us, whether we produce food, offer consultancy or code CRM systems:

When one of your competitors fucks up, pounce on it.

Don’t play Mr Nice Guy.

Business is war.

If you’ve got a USP that fills a trust vacuum left by your competitor’s screw up, exploit it. Promote it. Newsjack it until it bleeds.

Look at how your business model can add value to the customer when they waiver in your direction because they can’t trust their regular provider.    Their attention is for sale, and you’ve got to go for it.

The consumer still needs whatever it was that they were buying before, but they need to find a new supplier.

If you’re brave enough, fast enough, agile enough, that might just be you.

If you’re not, don’t bother your pretty little head.  After all, you don’t need another customer, do you?

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.

DISCLAIMER:  I write the above as a committed vegetarian, so I have only professional interest in the issue.  My carrots are 100% horse-free.

Image courtesy for the PanGalactic Gargleblaster and the Heart of Gold on Flickr.  Top name!

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8 thoughts on “Horsemeat, trust vacuums and business as war.

  1. PETA gets this completely wrong.

    It isn’t about horse meat. Although Brits to have a strong caring for our equine friends, this is not the issue. It is about TRUST, fraud, lying, risk to human health and the complete abdication of responsibility by most stakeholders.

    PETA – you could have made a campaign that really hit home with this.

    You missed.

  2. Pingback: The UK food industry is squandering its best opportunity for decades (and where are the marketers?) | interacter

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