Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vegemite Brand Struck with Major Silly Extension – Gets Hammered.

Hurry before Vegemite in Australia takes down its “new” home page, with the new brand extension name that just about every living human being Down Under has crapped all over. Go there – see the picture.

Hard on the news that original Monty Python member Terry Jones confirmed he became a father again this month (age 67) has come the shockin’ announcement of this branding failure in Australia – or maybe I’ve got these two items switched around.

Nevertheless, the makers of the salty, Brit-world-famous veggie spread (Kraft Foods Australia) attempted a bit of a brand extension. The new name is right on the label – slogan: “It’s Vegemite, but Different,” offering a more creamy, cheesy Vegemite. Stunning, really: The name choice did not resonate with outspoken brand loyalists in Oz. The Beeb reported:

It was never going to be easy tampering with a food spread considered iconic by some in Australia and New Zealand. But when Kraft, makers of Vegemite, chose a name for a new variation – iSnack2.0 – public distress forced an embarrassing U-turn.

The rumpus has continued to reverb worldwide; pundits are comparing it to the “New Coke” branding disaster. Mike Damon of Damon Medical Communications sent me the news – he knows I collect oddments like this. He said, effectively, what were those Aussie marketers thinking? With this bizarre attempt to make the old brand…relevant?

This much is true: When you mess with a cultural icon, you damn well better find out if the culture’s going to let you make a mess. This is a key part of the Stakeholder Rule and Signalwriter has had something to say about this.

Vegemite is multi-generationally familiar – even passionately loved. The salty-tasty spread was invented in 1922 but it was the Aussie soldiers in WWII that really made the product a critical part of life Down Under.

The shaken reactions to iSnack 2.0 are a caution to branders and brand marketers. But I believe this misstep can be fixed if Kraft Foods Australia and the Vegemite brand managers are quick and smart. Australians and New Zealanders have enough of a sense of humor so that they’d accept an apology, a straightforward “Sorry, we mucked this up” from Kraft. Right, you guys?

Kraft is re-starting its clever public-picks-the-name campaign (yes, the one that yielded the really awful new name). For sure, the firm’s going to get a lot of grief, like iFumbled 2.1; and the jokes have been popping for days. But the brand is well-loved. Aussies are nice people. Everyone will get over this fast and I bet the sales won’t be at all hurt. If Kraft does issue a real apology, the brand will recover even faster. Now please – pass the Veeta-Vita-Vegemite.


Richard Laurence Baron said...

Right - I've sent out a note asking if readers have even tasted Vegemite. (Because many Americans don't seem too familiar with "foreign foods.") I wonder...

And no, I don't know the name of Terry Jones's forthcoming new baby.

Tania Ashley said...

I have absolutely tasted it. I grew up eating Bovril, which is very similar. My parents are British, and it is a very common thing to eat there. We would have it on English muffins with butter and some cheese... yummy!

Rob Schoenbeck said...

Richard: I have tasted, in fact ‘eaten’, Vegemite on numerous occasions while in Australia. I can’t say that it has become my favourite breakfast spreads (I prefer Marmite from the UK), but it has a special fondness in my heart for all the pleasant memories it evokes.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Thank you, Tania and Rob.

And, dear readers, thanks to Rob I am also able to point you to an article, “A Jar of Vegemite, a Window on Kraft” by Ilan Brat, which appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. This fine business-oriented piece, much less excited the ordinary newspaper articles and blog posts (like mine), credits Irene Rosenfeld, CEO at Kraft Foods, for fostering success in this new, Vegemite/Australia venture.

Two key sentences, highlighted for me by Rob:

“Two months after the July 7 launch [of the reformulated Vegemite], Kraft had sold more than 2.8 million jars of the new stuff in Australia and New Zealand before it even had a name; the company held a contest for consumers to give it one. It's now called Vegemite iSnack 2.0.

“In the same period, Kraft sold about 3.2 million jars of traditional Vegemite, which remains on the shelves. In the year-earlier period, Vegemite sales had totaled 3.3 million jars, indicating that the new product was bringing in new consumers.”

That’s 6 million jars all in, boys and girls, instead of the previous year’s 3.3 mill – a superb sales increase, who gives a damn if the new name is wonky!

Thanks again, Rob.