THE chief element in Vegemite’s new product is cream cheese. A secondary ingredient appears to be abject failure. No one likes the name of this new yeast product. Not one bit.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. There must be at least six Harvard MBAs at Kraft Foods who adore it. Vegemite launched the Vegemite plus cheese product a few months ago with a campaign inviting consumers to name the cheesier cousin.
The winning name was announced during the telecast of the AFL grand final. In an effort ”to align the new product with a younger market – and the ‘cool’ credentials of Apple’s iPod and iPhone” Kraft chose iSnack 2.0 from a field of 48,000.
This raises many questions. Chief among them is how very terrible were the other 47,999 competition submissions that Kraft was left with iSnack 2.0?
The label is every bit as hip as a polka convention and every bit as convincingly ”now” as parachute pants. Further, aligning a breakfast spread with a portable media device makes as much sense as employing a bikini model to sell cabbage. Nonetheless, the failed faux-cool of the new product made it past the marketing department. They even added a tagline reminding us that this was, ”the next generation Vegemite”.
The decision to give Vegemite a rebellious heir struck many as odd. The act per se of fusing cheese with Vegemite is entirely forgivable. In fact, many of us have privately enjoyed this union in our own kitchens for years. While the product itself might be inoffensive or actually good, its branding is a catastrophe. No one, it seems, fancies the idea of Vegemite fermenting a ”next generation”. As to the bizarre alliance of a brown, sticky breakfast staple with the sleek white lines of Apple’s media players: frankly, it jars.
The iLoathing for the iSnack is evenly spread. On Monday, the global noticeboard Twitter was jammed with disgust. Comments that included ”I said do you speaka my language? She just smiled and gave me an iSnack 2.0 sandwich” and ”What’s the matter, was the name Crap Paste already trademarked?” appeared under the tag #vegefail to become the website’s most popular topic. One wag suggested that St Kilda’s defeat was prompted by this contemptible act of branding. On a day when many were concerned about Iran’s nuclear proliferation, the top topic among Twitter’s 33 million users was the failure of iSnack 2.0.
Elsewhere online, it was precisely those young early adopters targeted by Kraft’s campaign that showed their displeasure. The site ”Names that are better than iSnack 2.0” arose to suggest ”Just-About-Anything-Would-Be-Better-Mite”. Even web forums normally given over to specific discussion of software applications were occupied with this new iFailure.
When Australian netizens realised they were firmly united in disgust, the conspiracy theories began. By close-of-business Monday, consensus was that Kraft had intentionally selected a terrible name. This iSnack 2.0 nonsense was certainly a stunt.
”It’s definitely not a stunt, you have my word on that,” Kraft spokesman Simon Talbot told press on Monday. He explained that the public reaction was a little stronger than had been anticipated at Kraft.
Naturally, garrulous internet users were chuffed at their apparent clout. ”They’re listening to us. We can’t be fooled by marketing in the digital age,” wrote one smug Twitterer; probably from his iPhone.
It is certainly true that Kraft failed to estimate the cynicism of this market segment. This is odd as anyone with a Facebook account should know that active internet users tend to have something negative to say about most things. And on Monday, you could hear the electronic hive mind at maximum drone. But a failure with the web savvy is not necessarily a failure in the broader marketplace.
However, it seems the world’s largest food and beverage company got it wrong in all market segments. The iSnack is reviled by people other than garden variety geeks. In the past two days, a handful of marketing kingpins have publicly counselled Kraft to pull the product from shelves. This, they warned, could be a brand calamity equal to the ill-fated New Coke.
Far worse than underestimating the crankiness of internet users, Kraft misjudged the intelligence of the broader Australian market.
While we may not be among the most acquisitive of all the world’s consumers, we do tend to be among the most confident. We will adopt new technology and product but we do so based more on our assessment of an item’s quality than its attendant branding blitz. In fact, the descendants of law-breakers and outcasts tend to be chary of obvious bait.
Thanks to pitiable marketing and a miscalculation of Australian savvy, the iSnack 2.0, as it has been said a thousand times on Twitter, is toast.
Helen Razer is a Melbourne writer.