Woolworths had barely announced its association with ‘Happy’ singer Pharrell Williams ten days ago when the retail store’s critics started questioning the rationale for the association, and encouraged Williams to reconsider his relationship. Pharrell is the new Style Director (whatever that may entail) of Woolworths! The main question asked was why an American artist is to be used, when surely our country has an equally good role model. At a function last week a Woolworths executive explained the reason for Williams’ appointment.
To write this blogpost I Googled Woolworths and Pharrell Williams, and was surprised that the Woolworths website did not come up on the first few pages!
The information on the website is scant, with a YouTube video with Pharrell talking, and very basic questions asked, being the basis of the campaign. Asking ‘Are you with us?‘, the website invites one to join in ‘Let’s start a movement’. It asks the following questions:
* ‘Are you for our kids getting a great education?‘
* ‘ Do you care where our products come from?’
* ‘Are you for clean rivers and oceans?’
The section ends off as follows: ‘Woolies (how strange to use this for the brand name, ‘Woolworths‘ not appearing in this section of the retailer’s website at all) and Pharrell are on a journey to make a difference‘. The South African flag waves in the background, and Pharrell mentions our country name a number of times in the video.
The Pharrell ‘Are you with us?‘ campaign links four disparate elements:
* ‘Win with us‘ – one has to sms 43366 and then swipe one’s WRewards card when next one is in the store. The almost instant reply sms reads: ‘Thank you for registering to win tickets to a private concert with GRAMMY winner Pharrell Williams, exclusive to WRewards member at Woolies. woolies.me/areyouwithus’. It mentions in this section that ‘Ts and Cs apply’, but when one clicks on the link none appear!
* ‘Create with us‘ – one is invited to ‘design a T-shirt celebrating sustainability‘. Instructions are to ‘pick a shirt colour, create a design, and change the world‘! Once again it mentions in this section that ‘Ts and Cs apply’, but when one clicks on the link none appear!
* ‘Give with us’ – one is invited to link one’s MySchool card to any school of one’s choice. When one shops at the retailer, the card will be swiped and money will be donated to the school of one’s choice. However, they do not specify how much is donated from one’s purchase!
* ‘Sing with us‘ – an experience of a lifetime is for a ‘school singing group‘ (odd name for a choir) to sing with Pharrell at the private concert in September.
How education, caring about the products coming from our oceans, singing at Pharrell’s concert, and winning tickets to attend Pharrell’s concert all link together and fulfill the question ‘Are you with us‘ is not clear. From a marketing perspective even odder is the pay-off line: ‘#Pharrell WITHWOOLIES’, yes the last word is in capitals, is written as one word, and ‘Woolies‘ appears again!
Pharrell was in Cape Town for the announcement of the ‘collaboration‘, and appeared on Top Billing. He was seen clubbing with actress Jennifer Hudson a weekend ago.
An interesting blogpost about the campaign was written by Caroline Hurry, very critical of Woolworths’ dishonesty towards its customers regarding food claims. She asks why so much (fee not disclosed) was paid to use Pharrell: ‘Were no local musicians talented enough to help Woolworths promote their over-priced, GM-riddled food? Seriously?‘, she asked with a bite! She continues: ‘Woolworths and Mr Williams share values, we’re told. That’s indisputable, since apparently neither like to pay artists for their work. There’s this. And there’s this‘. She then explains why she no longer shops at the retailer and that she has been blocked on Twitter by Woolworths.
The South African arm of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel movement (BDS for short) has previously demonstrated inside and outside Woolworths stores for the retailer selling some products from Israel. As soon as news about the ‘Are you with us?‘ campaign was announced, BDS Tweeted Pharrell, answering his campaign question of ‘Are you with us?‘ with a firm ‘No‘ and calling for yet another boycott of Woolworths!
I sat next to Woolworths’ Wine Buyer Ivan Oertle at the Saronberg Full Circle ten year vertical tasting last Friday. We talked about the Pharrell campaign, and why the singer was selected for it. He explained that Woolworths does not only operate in our country but in Central (e.g. Ghana and Kenya) and Southern Africa too, with franchised stores in the countries. He said that the following that Pharrell has internationally, and in Africa specifically (e.g. he has 6,4 million @Pharrell Twitter followers, and his ‘Happy’ is the most-downloaded YouTube video of all time) makes him a global role model. He emphasised that Woolworths is not wanting to be the best retailer in South Africa only, but internationally too, already being rated as one of the top five food retailers internationally. He is confident that both Pharrell and Woolworths will be ‘Happy’ with their collaboration!