The Weird, Icky Gender Messaging of Whole Foods’ New Ad Campaign

Earlier today we linked to a great summary of some of the shortcoming’s of Whole Foods’ aesthetically gorgeous new marketing campaign — namely that it still makes them look expensive and pretentious, two things they should probably at this point be trying to avoid.

Well, we missed something: the stunningly off gender messaging of some of these ads. For a campaign that is primarily about “Values” … Whole Foods’ agency, New York based Partners & Spade, messed this one up pretty bad.

The ads — all of which seem to feature women, save for the one with a possibly male farm worker shown in the distance, with his back to camera — pair whimsically typefaced headlines with an image.

Some are totally fun and great:


Nice, right? Translation: Healthy food is yummy — and your family is a conscientious trend setter.

Some, though, are a little weird/off:


Harmless? Translation: Hey girls, you can look strong, totally! As long as you don’t challenge the status quo or really assert yourself or anything.

And some are downright creepy:


Translation: Your body belongs to someone else. You better take care of it better, so you can make them happy!


Values do matter to your consumers, Whole Foods. And your marketing agency is pushing brand messaging that is weirdly anti-feminist. Who shops at Whole Foods again?

Strategy Review: Whole Foods’ Bold, Beautiful, Message-Shaky Leap into Big Money Marketing


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potential strategic pitfalls: slick cinematography that makes them come off as expensive; “Values Matter” as an out-of-date message that misses an opportunity to talk about value (what he argues truly sets them apart from other organic chains); etc.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.

Great stuff.

Here’s one of the (admittedly beautiful) new ads. What do you think?

Awesome Ideas, Small Agencies

Today we’re sending out some small agency love to 11-person Parallax, who have instituted an absolutely brilliant policy: a $1500 travel budget for all employees. Say what?


The rules:

  1. You have to go somewhere you’ve never been.
  2. You have to go between September and December.
  3. It has to “push your comfort zone.”

And yes, that appears to be it. All employees. Anywhere in the world.

We love this idea because it recognizes your team members as whole people — who are sustained and inspired by experiences outside of work, and yet are always bringing that inspiration into work with them. Encouraging (and funding!) trips like this says more than just “we care about our employees.” It says our employees are brilliant, creative people whose personal development want to invest in.

More from Fast Company here.

How do agencies self-actualize?

If you’ve worked in the marketing world — especially as a creative — you know it involves a high degree of compromise. You compromise on the original concept for one that you know will get chosen. You compromise on your favorite design for one that makes the client happy. You compromise on something that’s perfect for something that works. In fact, one can argue that it’s that very process of modification and feedback — with clients, with each other — that makes the collaborative process meaningful.

But we also know that if we’re all stuck doing something we don’t like 90% of the time, that doesn’t work either. This is as true for agencies themselves as it is for the individuals who work at them.

venn diagram

A great agency is able to find the sweet spot in the diagram above: taking on work that a) it does well, b) it can be paid (well) for, and c) it wants to be doing. When you’re in that sweet spot, there’s nothing better.

However, even the best agencies won’t always land all three. At LogicTrail, we get plenty of offers for work we can get paid for, and that we do well…but those are not always the jobs that we want to be doing. As a small, talented agency working with a wide range of clients big and small, part of our growth process has been to recognize when we’re in a situation like this — being offered a job we don’t actually want to do — and start saying no. Even if it would make us a lot of money.

We’re also constantly learning and improving as an agency. If we want to do cutting-edge work in, say, 3-D animation or apps, that doesn’t mean we have the capacity to do it right at this moment. If that’s something we want to be doing, we have to build our way there. And there are things we do really well currently — high-level brand strategy, design, etc. — that we can monetize further.

Check out the graphic again. How does it apply to your agency?

Adventures in Packaging Design: “The 99 Pack”

We’ve made our fair share of forays into the world of craft brewing — including collaborations with Surly and current main squeeze Berkshire Brewing (stay tuned for an upcoming rebrand) — but this one even blew us away a little bit.

Introducing the 99-pack, from Texas-based brewer Austin Beerworks. 99 beers, 99 bucks. One very long package.

While it may be a pain in the ass to carry, we love this from a brand-awareness perspective. How often do you get to do packaging design like this? Or have a client who is bold enough to lead with it?

Kudos to the folks down in Austin.

More from their landing page:

It’s not only real, it’s an amazing deal: ninety-nine beers for $99. That’s 82 pounds of craft beer! Over seven feet of crisp, flavorful Peacemaker!

Here’s the catch: we’re only releasing a limited number of these beautiful beasts. So like the Chupacabra they’re gonna be tricky to nab. Follow us online to see what stores are stocked up with 99-packs. And make sure you tag your Anytimes with#AnytimeAle. Good luck and remember, lift with your legs, not your back. In fact, why don’t you bring a friend.

Logo Redesign Review: Airbnb

Much has been written about Airbnb’s logo redesign — some of it positive, some of it negative, a lot of it hilarious — and while the undeniable consensus is that it looks like a certain, erm, human genitalia (wait, which one?), it’s still unclear how Airbnb as a company plans to strategically move forward. Toss it or keep it? Defend it or make light of it? Backtrack or move confidently forward and ignore the fuss?

Since the logo has some similar elements to ours, we thought it was time to weigh in.

aribnb4 LogoHead-Name

Here at The Idea Blog, we surveyed our Art Director, Junior Designer, Interactive Director, Account Coordinator, and CMO, asking each team member three questions. Now, for the highly scientific study results.

What does it look like?

“I see a pair of testicles crossed with a paper clip.”

“A woman’s breasts or an alien in a head lock.”

“A ball sack or some boobs”

“Butt and anus”

“An upside down heart. A pool rack gone awry.”

Keep it or toss it?


“Toss it”

“toss it”

“Keep it & change the color?”

“Toss it.”

Any other thoughts?

“Paper clip testicles.”

“I don’t know what they do and this doesn’t give me any clues as to what that is. If it’s to be mysterious, they win. Needs something to support it, such as tagline or positioning line. And the all lower case type makes it even more difficult to decipher. ”

“What the heck does that have to do with airbnb?”

“That shade of pink/corral brings the anatomy connotations. I think they would have been safe with a different color within that palette — lime green, sky blue, etc. But hey, I’d still keep it.”

“I don’t get it. I have no idea what it is – the symbol or airbnb”


The first thing we realized was: apparently not everyone knows what Airbnb is. In this respect, hey — at least they are getting some press!

On the flip side, most of us thought it looked like some form of human genitalia and would just toss it.

Their move. Just please don’t tell us our own beautiful, line-drawn logo is compromised by “the bélo.” We were here first. With it right side up. And inside a freaking head.