Last night, as is the case most days, I was quickly skimming through the barrage of MediaPost newsletters I get in my inbox. Sandwiched in the newly-launched ad campaign section, between a promotion by Jolt Energy to hand out free cola to residents in Alaska that will have no darkness for the next week and a promotion by Hanes showing Charlie Sheen in his undies, something caught my attention: Whole Foods has recently launched an outdoor campaign in the tri-state area positioning itself as the grocery store that meets the everyday needs of people.
Created by boutique New York ad agency The Watsons, the ads range from touting being healthy to poking fun at some of the things the chain is being notorious for in a seeming attempt to compete with more traditional grocery store chains. Splattered on subway entrances and billboards, one ad reads: “A 50 person line has about a 4 minute wait. About as long as you wait for other cashiers to wrap up a personal call.”
Whole Foods’ competitiveness with traditional grocery chains, however, is something that has been debated for years now. In 2006, Whole Foods unveiled a similar style ad campaign, that time touting its pricing competitiveness. Often referred to as Whole Paycheck, Allen Adamson, the managing director of the New York office of Landor Associates and author of BrandSimple, told the New York Times the ads “are inconsistent with what the brand stands for.” He added: “The reality is that they have a premium-looking store positioned as an all natural place to shop. Both of those signal ‚Äòexpensive.'”
To see if there was any merit to the reputation, the Times reported a survey comparing prices against those at Walgreens, Trader Joe’s, and The Food Emporium, amongst others in New York City, and in many instances had prices on the lower end of the scale. “The reality is that they are not a higher-priced competitor,” said Andrew Wolf, a grocery industry analyst at BB&T Capital Markets, in the same NY Times article. “However, if your store looks cleaner and your products are better, you can create a price image that is higher than reality,” he added. “You are punished for being good.”
Two years later, as this new outdoor campaign rolls out, it will be interesting to see if they will continue to be punished for “being good.” (I write this with a very large grain of salt knowing the love/hate relationship many have with the chain, not to mention having followed the Pollan/Mackey discourse). As we recently discussed here on 3P about how, now more than ever, green is becoming a part of the bottom lines for CPG manufacturers and grocery stores – both in terms of “traditional” and “green vs. non-green” grocery shopping – Whole Foods latest push to compete against both the Trader Joe’s and the Safeways of the world seems to be nonetheless a smart move.
As a part of the new campaign, the company is also offering free pedicab rides for customers take home their groceries. Though, in the means streets of New York City, I can imagine that ride might not necessarily be as comfortable and leisurely as one might hope.
(Photo Sources: MediaPost)