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Published on

April 20, 2021


crisis communications, Social Media

Recently Britain has faced a debate potentially more controversial than baked beans on Weetabix. Colin vs Cuthbert has been the story we all need, but it also provides some key lessons on crisis comms and marketing.

If you were told that a major player in your industry was taking legal action against your brand, what would you do? Our instincts might tell us to not make a peep and run towards the legal team. To be very very serious and let people in suits take charge. You might even block out some time in your calendar for a little (read massive) cry.

Whilst trademark infringement isn’t something anyone wants to be accused of, it doesn’t have to be all bad news for the copycat(erpillar) as we’ve seen from Aldi’s phenomenal and truly iconic response to M&S’ recent threats of legal action. In a matter of days, Aldi went from being subjected to complicated-sounding legal words to completely owning the conversation and using the power of social to turn things around. Marketers across the country are frantically typing ‘marketing jobs at Aldi’ into Google and LinkedIn, shoppers are dropping their M&S baskets, and social media users are creating Cuthbert driven content.

In the past week, it’s clear that Aldi has taken firm control of the conversation. The narrative Aldi has developed is a simple one – M&S is being ridiculous, it’s just a cake. To be fair, they’re not entirely wrong. But what we marketers need to understand is how Aldi took control and turned a legal battle against them into increased social engagement and brand consideration.

1. Speed matters

Rather than waiting the standard 9-14 days to turn from caterpillar to butterfly, Aldi’s team were active on social within hours of the news breaking. Whilst M&S stayed silent, Aldi saw a conversation was already starting on social and jumped straight in.

You can’t control a conversation you’re not part of – and Aldi knows that. By speaking up, the supermarket could make their position known and completely shift the entire conversation. Before, users were discussing why other supermarkets with similar cakes weren’t being called out. People were debating whether they were #teamCuthbert or #teamColin. After Aldi’s tweet, one thing was clear – M&S are the boring bad guys here.

2. Have a laugh

So, did Aldi make a serious statement in their first tweet? Something that had gone through at least five lawyers and lacked any sense of personality? Absolutely not.

One of the most impactful copywriting tricks is taking a well-known phrase and flipping it on its head. Here, Aldi has used M&S’ own iconic line against them. Reacting quickly not only allowed Aldi to take control of the conversation before M&S could get a word in, but they’ve also thrown shade knowing that the internet would go absolutely wild for it.

Aldi understands how social media works. Their team have first-hand knowledge of memes, trends and phrases. This gives authenticity and relatability that, to use an appropriate phrase, gives social media users life.

3. Don’t play all your cards at once

After a weekend of memes, user-generated content and interactions with other brands, Aldi have built up a positive sentiment across all platforms. But a few hilarious tweets weren’t the limit of Aldi’s fightback against M&S.

Aldi has now announced that profits from their new version of Cuthbert will be donated to Macmillan Cancer Support and the Teenage Cancer Trust. With audiences firmly on their side, Aldi has played their strongest card at the right moment – cementing their status as the winner in the caterpillar cake war. M&S were left in a tight spot. If they continue with their lawsuit, they risk serious brand damage. After all, who wants to be known as the killjoy supermarket who took money from cancer charities? M&S apparently…

Needless to say, M&S haven’t had the best response from the public…or Aldi.

There’s no doubt that Aldi vs. M&S will go down in marketing history. It’s taught us the importance of taking control, and the dangers of staying silent. The need for speed, but also knowing exactly when to play your strongest card. Most importantly, it’s shown that we Brits really do get passionate about the strangest things.

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