Pulling the Michelle Bridges Woolies ad takes the biscuit

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 9 November 2015
Sarah Homewood, AdNews journalist

Let's just take a moment to think about Michelle Bridges' latest Woolworths ad. Is it really so offensive that the supermarket should pull the ad and apologise for it? Apparently so, but I don't think it needed to.

I'm as obsessed with social media as much as the next person. It's the first thing I check when I wake up, and the last thing I look at before I go to sleep, I know how depressing that sounds. But the tool that has given so many people a voice, has also delivered some of the most impressive marketing 'storm in a tea cup' moments.

The latest chestnut has to be the Michelle Bridges for Woolworths ad that has been deleted from YouTube and the supermarket chain has since apologised for. A vocal minority believed that the fitness queen called them freaks for growing their own vegetables.

Don't get me wrong, Woolworths has made some branding missteps in the past. The 'lest we forget' social experience was something I believe no one will ever forget. But Michelle Bridges 'dirt-gate' is not one of those moments.

For those who didn't get to see the ad before it was ripped from the internet, Bridges is seen unkempt, wandering around a veggie patch. She leans in after talking to her plant babies and gobbles some dirt out of a pot plant. Then she remarks that eating healthy doesn't mean you have to act like a freak.

Now, some people got a little overheated, feeling outraged because Bridges, and Woolworths, were calling home gardeners freaks. Let's just get some perspective. Bridges didn't take some home grown herbs and vegetables, make a fresh and vibrant stir fry, and proceed to call resourceful home gardeners and cooks freaks for eating home grown produce. She referred to her dirt-eating self as a freak.

I am going to make an assumption now and say that unless you're three years old, or doing the paleo diet, you don't eat dirt regularly. If you do, that may indeed make you a bit strange.

When I saw the ad, and the one in the series before it, where Bridges makes fun of her 'perfect' life by waking up planking and lunging with her Pomeranians, she and the supermarket giant were clearly attempting to poke a bit of fun at the rise of the health cult. Something Bridges is at the forefront of.

I truly don't understand why these ads caused such furore. Nor why both Woolies and Bridges apologised. When brands do make faux pas – and they often do – they should apologise, quickly, and frankly, take action and make amends.

Volkswagen's CEO for instance apologised over the emissions scandal last month. Ashley Madison apologised over its data breach. Reckitt Benckiser apologised, rightly, after its Mortein fly spray brand jumped on board the social hashtag campaign
#putoutyourdress in honour of murdered Stephanie Scott as it was seen to be a tasteless brand activity.

But Bridges and Woolies are having a joke. Where is everyone's sense of humour?

Social media for all its perks is a dangerous place for brands. No necessarily in the sense that they can get all types of people criticising them for all sorts of things, but it can make brands and marketers overly cautious. Something there is already far too much of.

Brands are investing a decent amount of time and money into social platforms to ensure they are always manned and always giving customers positive interactions. It also means that the 900 Australians who do eat dirt get an unprecedented share of voice.

Not everyone is going to like your ads and in this modern world of adblocking most people are trying to escape your ads anyway. But unless a brand has genuinely stepped out of line, gone too far and made a genuinely offensive step - why cave to the keyboard warriors and 'listicle' media outlets calling for blood when in reality they simply just missed the point.

By caving to the vocal minority it simple ensures sameness, another raft of ads where someone or something chirps about prices and no one really knows what your brand stands for. Brands need to stop fearing the dislike button, and embrace it, not only could it give you a chance to take on certain feedback be better in the future, but it could also help you make your mark.

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