Sunday, November 8, 2009

Don’t Mess With My Vegemite, Mate!

The NYT recently ran a story about a campaign by the Kraft Corporation in Australia, looking for a name to brand their new Vegemite/creamcheese concoction. As I’m an Aussie, I have a special affinity for Vegemite - the rest of you think it’s vile, I know.

But Kraft’s marketing department went where angels fear to tread. They messed with our sacred Vegemite, STRUTH! They combined the Aussies’ rich gooey staple with cream cheese and sent it out with a no-name label inviting the Australian public to create a name for this very, um, unique spread.

The initial winner? Vegemite iSnack 2.0, which was met by public outrage. Vegemite-lovers from Hobart to Woop Woop voiced their indignation, and went straight to social media as their squawk box. They twittered, and blogged, and created websites dedicated to re-naming the spread. In the land of down-under, like AFL (Australian Football League) and Swan Draught (beer), Vegemite is something you don’t screw with.

One person suggested that the 27-year-old designer who’d submitted the winning name be smeared with Vegemite and forced to run naked through the streets of Sydney “as retribution for his cultural crime.” Others called the name “uStupid 1.0” and “un-Australian.”

Nuff said. Four days later and Kraft caved in. A new vote was cast and a new name settled upon - Cheesybite.

To be fair, Kraft’s research showed that Aussies wanted a more spreadable version of their beloved Vegemite and the product per se has met with great success. Kraft’s failing was not in the product extension, it was its deafness and inability to act appropriately – it had not chosen the winner by popular vote.

The moral to this story? Don’t underestimate the power of social media. It’s become an enabler for voicing our passion and displeasure en masse. iSnack 2.0 (which is a dreadful name, besides) proved that consumers will use social media (and whatever tools they have at their disposal) to spread their messages like bushfires.

By the way, Vegemite sales have not slowed since the introduction of Cheesybite. Aussies know which side of the bread is buttered.

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