The iSnack 2.0 Saga

‘How do you like your Vegemite?’ campaign illustrates the benefits and pitfalls of relying on crowd sourcing and social media for market research.

Exhibit 4.2 ‘How do you like your Vegemite?’ campaign.

Real Australians eat Vegemite! — The slogan echoes a nation’s pride for what undoubtedly is the most iconic Australian food product. Kraft, the company that used to own the brand, conducted a very successful ‘How do you like your Vegemite?’ (Exhibit 4.2) crowdsourcing campaign in 2008. The campaign generated enormous buzz, revived interest in the brand, raised brand affinity, re-invigorated sales and yielded over 300,000 submissions, including a number of new combinations and uses of Vegemite.

Vegemite is now owned by Bega Cheese Limited. The Australian company purchased the brand from Mondelez in 2017.

Kraft was already aware that consumers were mixing Vegemite with other foods. The campaign yielded new insights on how the brand was consumed, on what foods were being combined and how consumers consumed Vegemite.

This led to the creation of a new blended variant — mixing Philadelphia Cream Cheese with Vegemite to create a smoother, milder, easier to spread, “dipable” variant that was better suited for snacking. The new product became an instant success — within two months of launch, 2 million jars were sold, and the variant achieved 12% household penetration.

Soon after the new variant was conceived, Kraft launched a “Name Me” campaign, and received as many as 48,000 suggestions. The most popular amongst these was the name “Cheesymite”, which unfortunately, was already trademarked. The Kraft team instead chose the name iSnack 2.0 (Exhibit 4.3), a modified version of another suggestion, iSpread 2.0. The team wanted to strengthen the brand’s association with healthy snacking.

Regrettably for Kraft, the name bombed. The announcement of the new name was made on Sep 26, 2009, at the revered Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), in front of a crowd of 100,000 and 3 million viewers on TV. A stunned silence greeted the end of that announcement, and over the next few days, Kraft was confronted by a consumer rebellion the likes of which no business had ever seen.

iSnack 2.0 case study illustrates the benefits and pitfalls of relying on crowd sourcing and social media for market research.

Exhibit 4.3   iSnack 2.0.

It was a repeat of the New Coke saga at a scale enormously amplified by social media. A video mocking iSnack 2.0 became the number one comedy clip on YouTube. And iSnack 2.0 became one of top 3 topics discussed globally on Twitter.

Ironically, consumers’ indignation was most visibly reflected in comments by the internet savvy generation that the name was intended to appeal to. One of them said “iSnack 2.0 is a travesty in both name and substance. Stick to the real Vegemite, people”.  Another remarked, “So iTried Vegemite’s new iSnack today – It is safe to say iHate it.”

The brand was renamed Cheesybite on Oct 7, 2009.

One of the reasons attributed to the fiasco, was that the Kraft team picked a name that was not the most popular among the respondents that voted in the “Name Me” campaign. The fundamental issue, however, pertains to the bias inherent in any information sourced from the internet, for the reasons listed in the section Benefits and Limitations of UGC. The other underlying issue is that asking people to vote for a name does not reveal what they really feel about the name. It is crucially important to gauge the feelings of not only those who voted for the new name, but also of those who did not vote for it.

The iSnack 2.0 fiasco reinforces what we already know. Where doubts exist, crucial business decisions such as the naming of an iconic brand must be based on proven analytics and research methods. Crowdsourcing and other forms of UGC provide a very rich source of information for marketers, yet that information should not form the basis for measurement or validation.

UGC does, however, have the potential to complement, support and strengthen the processes that constitute conventional market research. Spurred by the ‘How do you like your vegemite?’ campaign the creation of a new variant, blending Vegemite with Philadelphia Cream Cheese, was a big win for the Kraft team, and a strong endorsement of the effective use of UGC. Though undoubtedly the blend would have undergone sensory research, it was a creation that came through crowd sourcing.

On the other hand, the original choice of the name of the blend was something that many of Kraft’s associates felt uncomfortable about. And for the reasons cited earlier, the “Name Me” campaign was at best a source of ideas. Such a ploy might have worked for a totally new product, where little or no heritage existed, as was the case when Vegemite was originally named. Yet for a much-loved icon that is 100 years old, its name must blend with the thoughts, feelings and emotions that the brand is associated with.

Intuitively speaking, irrespective of whether one thinks it was “stupid” or “kitschy”, the name iSnack 2.0 was far too great an aberration from the “real” Vegemite. It was far too wide a stretch for the brand –something that qualitative research is particularly good at deciphering. Besides, qual is also the ideal research platform to gauge the thoughts, feelings and associations that a name evokes. It would have unearthed the deep-seated disapproval that consumers felt for the name iSnack 2.0.

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