June 26, 2012

Lessons Learned from Marketing Program Firestorm

by LeAnne Philips, Entira

It sounded like a great idea. Make a $100,000 donation to a charity that helps animals, give the program a fun name consistent with your brand, and tie it all together with a social media and point-of-purchase marketing program. A recipe for success, right? But … somehow it all went wrong.

Like many others in agriculture, I was intrigued watching the Yellow Tail wine “Tails for Tails” saga play out in early 2010. Here are the highlights:

  • In mid-January 2010, Yellow Tail wine announced its “Tails for Tails” program, in which it would donate $100,000 to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The program built off the wine’s name and wallaby graphic on its bottle labels.
  • In late January, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance wrote a letter to the company expressing disappointment in the decision given HSUS stance on animal agriculture and limited financial support of local animal shelters. The Alliance also “tweeted” about the program on Feb. 3.
  • This Twitter posting started a social media firestorm among animal agriculture supporters and HSUS critics. Within hours, hundreds of people sent their own Twitter postings about the decision, and signed up as “fans” on Yellow Tail’s Facebook page to register their disapproval of the company’s choice to support HSUS. A number of ag organizations and journalists wrote about the issue in newsletters and blog postings.
  • By the end of the day on Feb. 4, Yellow Tail acknowledged the feedback they’d received, and posted an update saying: “We've decided to use all of our $100K gift to aid animal rescue” with a link to a news release. The release stated that the $100,000 donation would now be targeted to the HSUS' Animal Rescue Team, "which rescues animals in peril, whether from natural disasters or large-scale cruelty cases."
  • This announcement only added fuel to the fire. Emails, blog postings and Facebook postings have continued, complete with photos of people using Yellow Tail bottles for target practice and pouring contents in a toilet. A Facebook group named “Yellow Fail” attracted more than 1,500 fans in just a few days.
  • On Feb. 19, the Animal Agriculture Alliance issued a news release with a copy of a letter from Casella Wines, the producer of Yellow Tail, stating that in the future, the company would only support organizations that provide care directly to animals, not lobbying efforts.

It is too early to tell what impact this blow-up and the company’s response will have on Yellow Tail’s sales. However, there is no doubt that this “good plan gone bad” could have easily been avoided by a little additional research and taking a broader perspective on the marketplace.

This marketing misstep is even more surprising from a company that gained worldwide acclaim for marketing campaigns that catapulted it from a small, family-owned winery to a powerhouse brand in the U.S. The brand’s animal-themed name, distinct graphics and reputation of a quality wine at a $6 to $8 price point drove demand for Australian wines and spurred a host of competitors from Australia and around the world. Yellow Tail was introduced into the U.S. market in 2001 with expectations to sell 25,000 cases. Instead, the company sold 200,000 cases in 2001 and 6.7 million cases by 2004. From 2003 to 2006, Yellow Tail exports to the U.S. grew 90 percent compared to overall Australian export growth to the U.S. of 49 percent.

Perhaps the marketing team at Yellow Tail had good data showing that its target consumers support animal welfare and animal shelters. But, even the best customer and market data can be misleading without plugging them into the big picture. By choosing an organization that was already under fire in social media spheres … Yellow Tail inserted itself directly into the flames.

A quick Google search on HSUS would have turned up a number of web sites and articles that call into question the organization’s level of support for local animal shelters and the amount of donations that actually go to lobbying efforts against animal agriculture.

It wasn't all bad, though. The issue captured attention of people who weren't otherwise engaged and vocal on ag issues, and it ultimately motivated droves of people to take an active role in telling ag's story as "agvocates"—and they are still active today.

At Entira, we’ve seen ag consumers around the globe respond well to cause marketing when it’s done right. The best campaigns obviously tap into meaningful insights that come from understanding the customer and the cause you’re supporting. So while cause marketing represents untapped potential for agrimarketers, Yellow Tail is a cautionary tale about what can go awry.

To talk more about how you can leverage cause marketing, contact Entira at info@entira.net.

This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of Strategic Agribusiness Review.