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VegeSmite? Some quick thoughts on #vegefail & #nestlefamily

Twitter hastags are quickly becoming the popular shorthand to express corporate disasters with social media. Two cases in point recently: #vegefail, the dramatic, vitriolic and 100% negative response to Kraft naming a new Vegemite and Cheese product ‘iSnack 2.0’ after opening to public suggestions, and #nestlefamily in which the many, many questionable practices for Nestle regarding infant formula, and other things, resurfaced as the company courted influential ‘mummybloggers’ (a shorthand which, I gather, should really be ‘parent bloggers’ since some dads blog in this fashion, too).

First, Kraft: while having a national competition to name the new Vegemite product actually seemed a great way to harness Aussie love for all things Vegemite, especially when you receive more than 50,000 suggestions, letting Kraft simply pick a winner from all those suggestions was not such a good plan, especially when they picked ‘iSnack 2.0’ (which might be a good name for Steve Jobs’ new toaster, but not for an Australia food icon). Since the announcement last Saturday, there has been complaints, loud, angry, and funny (see one person’s response Downfall meme style! and the satirical iSnack 2.0 Twitter stream) but at the same time, the love for Vegemite was the most thing most central in these responses.  All the complaints may have looked like a massive marketing fail (hence #vegefail) yet Kraft have announced today (a mere 6 days later) that they’re going back to the drawing boards and getting another new name:


In the end, though, I tend to agree that the iSnack 2.0 reaction was far from a PR disaster – whether planned from the beginning, or a clever reaction to overwhelming customer sentiment, in going back to their consumers and letting them vote once again (albeit from six safe and crappy names) Kraft both reminded most Australians how much they care about Vegemite and got more publicity for a new product than you could possibly generate with a traditional advertising campaign. (And despite the cynicism, yes, I’ve voted.)

By contrast, the recent #nestlefamily controversy erupted when Nestle attempted to court influential ‘mummybloggers’ in the US by inviting 20 or so of them to a paid retreat where Nestle could show off their latest products and get authentic mummyblogger feedback.  However, Nestle seemed to give no thought at all to what openly courting social media attention might actually mean. On hearing about the planned event, and noting that some of the attendees were people she respected, PhD in Parenting wrote a long post entitled ‘An open letter to the attendees of the Nestle Family blogger event’ which reminded a lot of people about the many issues with Nestle as a company, including their long history of unethical behaviour, especially in relation to infant products, most notably, of course, being pushing infant formula in Africa.  Needless to say, before the event even started, a massive debate began on Twitter between supporters and detractors of Nestle; the oddest thing, though, was the deafening silence from Nestle.  For most of the debate, they remained silent and let people rage on blogs and Twitter. In leaving others to defend Nestle, some of the most angry defenders have clearly done more harm than good.  I don’t have time to go too far into the details, but I recommend reading the summary by Crunchy Domestic Goddess which gives an even-handed overview of the guts of the debate in terms of the way social media has been used.

Then, in a last ditch effort, Nestle have officially joined Twitter to try and manage the #nestlefamily debates, but they still don’t understand that this is a conversation, not a PR engine.  At the end of the day, this tweet seems to sum up perfectly why Nestle just don’t get social media:


Of course, now that questions are being asked loudly, if Nestle doesn’t answer them, others will.

The difference between Nestle and Kraft is simple: at the end of the day, Kraft listened and that was their salvation.  Nestle could learn from their corporate cousin.

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