By Oresti Patricios, CEO Ornico
What could be less controversial than the iconic Oreo cookie? Well, try an Oreo with rainbow crème filling. Nabisco, a division of Kraft Foods made a calculated marketing move in June 2012—which amongst other things is LGBT Pride month—by posting an image of a pro-pride cookie on their Facebook page.
The imaginary cookie had a six-layer rainbow-coloured filling, reminiscent of the pride flag; below was the simple text: “June 25 | Pride”. It went viral, and attracted kudos from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
Within 24 hours, the company’s Facebook post had 177 000 likes, 52 000 shares and 22 463 comments. There were negative remarks from anti-gay commenters, but most of the comments were supportive of Oreo’s marketing intent. And the debate has resulted in free publicity for the product, made by Nabisco, a brand owned by Kraft.
Kraft is the world’s second largest food company with annual revenues of $54.4 billion. Twelve of the company’s brands—including Cadbury, Jacobs, Nabisco, Trident and Tang—generate revenue of more than $1 billion annually. But there was a bit of a backlash after the Facebook love. The negative voices grew in loudness when an organisation known as One Million Moms, affiliated to the American Family Association, said that “siding with radical homosexuals” would alienate many Oreo-loving families. From a Republican and more conservative market came the warning that “if Christians cannot find corporate neutrality with Kraft they will vote with their pocketbook”. One Million Moms was calling for a boycott from its members.
LGBT supporters hit back, vowing to purchase more of the chocolate snack to make up for lost sales. And Kraft Foods defended the Oreo image in a media release. “As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness,” they said. “We feel the Oreo ad is a fun reflection of our values.” Kraft put their money where their mouth is – they subscribe to gender-equality in the workplace, and LGBT employees get a bonus to compensate for a tax break that married couples get.
Kraft is not alone: the debate around gay marriage in America, which has been one of the main topics in the Obama presidency, has seen several responses from other companies with progressive policies. JC Penney, who recently drew the ire of conservatives when they hired Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson, featured same-sex couples in their Mother’s and Father’s Day campaigns; Gap had two young men inside one snug T-shirt with the slogan “Be One”; and Ben and Jerry’s launched an ice-cream flavour called Apple-y Ever After, featuring a tuxedoed male couple on a rainbow-ribboned cake.
This may just be a strategic attempt to chase the “pink dollar”, and generally marketers agree that it’s a good idea to be inclusive in your marketing. Whatever way you look at it, the strategy seems to be working. Perhaps Oreo’s brand champions know that even those moms who agree with the OMM stand will shrug and give in when in the supermarket and Junior nags for his favourite sweet snack. After all, it’s a brand that can’t be licked and kids who walk past the biscuits they love can be persuasive.
Oreo’s marketing move has a strong lesson for markets like South Africa which is divided by these kinds of gender and political questions. Locally brands are a lot more conservative in their marketing, but hopefully this will change as businesses realise that they must become more active in driving societal change.