We loved this review of Whole Foods’ first big agency-backed marketing campaign, written by the organic food giant’s 90′s-era head of marketing Joe Dobrow. Dobrow absolutely nails some of the campaign’s potential strategic pitfalls: slick cinematography that makes them come off as expensive; “Values Matter” as an out-of-date message that misses an opportunity to talk about value (what he argues truly sets them apart from other organic chains); etc.
We were also dorking out on some of the company’s marketing history:
As the first ever national head-of-marketing for Whole Foods, back in the late ’90s, I fought and lost a battle to make marketing relevant. Back then, the company treated marketing as purely optional, a “nice-to-have,” kind of like an in-store wine-chiller or a grind-your-own peanut butter machine: it might bring in a few more customers. To the extent it had a marketing strategy at all, it was the “Field of Dreams” approach: build it and they will come. But the problem in retail marketing in general is that while “build it and they will come” may sometimes work, “build it and they will come back” never does. With so much attrition and competition, you have to keep pushing the brand to generate loyal, repeat business.
So I tried to launch targeted direct mail programs, radio campaigns, print campaigns, a glossy magazine, a sophisticated loyalty program, a co-branded credit card–all were greeted with suspicion and rigorous tests for proof of concept, and were ultimately rejected. I spent more time marketing the idea of marketing within Whole Foods than marketing Whole Foods outside of Whole Foods.
Here’s one of the (admittedly beautiful) new ads. What do you think?