Beware the fervour of your devoted fans

Beware the fervour of your devoted fans

Beware the fervour of your devoted fans

Fundraising | Celina Ribeiro | 30 Sep 2009

You can never trust a mob to be consistent.

Vegemite, the thick, black Australian spread as salty as it is iconic, asked its most devout supporters for their help in creating a name for a new product. In a display of typical Antipodean ingenuity, the new snack combines the traditional yeast-spread and cream cheese in the one jar – thus relieving the consumer of the arduous task of first spreading cream cheese and then spreading Vegemite on a piece of toast. And you thought Australians could only invent cochlear ear implants.

Such is the devotion to Vegemite, more than 48,000 people submitted entries.

The result of this collective creative effort: iSnack2.0. Ta da.

The bombing of the name has now been well-documented in the international press. Newspaper articles, TV news stories, talk back radio, blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube all bemoaned the (admittedly horrific) iSnack2.0. So spectacularly bad was the choice that Vegemite has today announced it will scrap iSnack -  but not before selling the half a million jars already in production.

Charities are forever banging on about engaging their supporters more intensely in the organisation, but what if the genius of crowds turns out to not to be so much genius as much as a father of two from Western Australia with slightly too much time on his hands?

Vegemite has brought upon itself mass mockery and outrage, but I expect it will take the taunts in its stride as it tallies up the value of the global publicity it has received as a result of the blunder.

But while a company can afford this kind of passionate outrage at a product, charities do not have the luxury of being able to incite horror at anything other than the raison d’etre.

When it comes to supporter engagement, it could well be a case of icon be ware.

John B.
9 Oct 2009

Hi Celina

Long time reader, first time contributor... Kraft's problem was not with the consumers of their product, it was solely within their own marketing department. Over 48,000 people suggested a name which is a great result. Of course many of those would be lame, some cliched, some obscene and hopefully a couple would be brilliant. But out of all those suggestions, it was Kraft that picked the lamest of the lame and therein the responsibility lies. Not with the consumers, but with Kraft who could have picked any of the other 47,999.

What does this mean for us? It means you should engage involve donors in meaningful interaction with your organisation. You'll probably get some great ideas as well as rubbish. But remember, you might 'outsource' idea generation, but you can never outsource responsibility for the outcome.


Michelle Kurly
8 Oct 2009

I have to say, there is an issue here. Aren't we supposed to be STEWARDING our supporters? Doesn't that mean that sometimes you listen and sometimes you don't. The point is really, that your supporters aren't always right.

What if they want you to send them tons of paper contrary to your environmental obligations. You have to involve and pay attention to them, but don't let them dictate your brand's future.

5 Oct 2009

There is a huge amount of creative energy and enthusiasm in the ranks of any charities supporters. Many of them have been around around longer than the staff members and have greater knowledge of what works and hasn't worked. Foolish is the professional who underestimates volunteers, without whom of course the charity probably wouldn't exist. Involving supporters and transparency is essential to the life-blood of any charity, please don't try to suggest otherwise. What was good in the Vegemite example was an attempt at partnership, what it lacked was someone bold enough in the organisation to say that it wasn't going to work.

Conor Byrne
1 Oct 2009

Yes its an awful name...and deserves the backlash. But I don't think your "what if" argument may put charities off trying something that could just work for them.


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