Veganism has exploded – there are 3.5 million British people now identifying as vegan, meaning seven per cent of Great Britain’s population shun animal products.

For this growing population, Veganuary is a vegan’s Christmas, just a week late. Stores across the UK bring in new, vegan stock throughout January, placing it in convenient, easily identifiable aisles. However, this year’s Veganuary also marked the start of a controversy, as UK bakery chain Greggs decided to introduce a vegan sausage roll.

The move would have been lost among the many chains bringing in new products – Marks & Spencer is offering more than 60 meat-and-dairy-free options. However, Piers Morgan took to Twitter to express displeasure with the move.

A feud of few words

 “Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns.” Piers Morgan’s reply to Greggs’ Veganuary Tweet became an overnight sensation. As a result, Greggs’ post now has 7.1 thousand comments and retweets, as well as 41 thousand likes. It was reported about on the news, with the Evening Standard trying the sausage rolls on air. While Greggs had attempted the usual advertisement campaign with an introductory video of the sausage roll, the company likely could not have boosted awareness for their new vegan products better even if they’d spent billions of pounds.

For comparison, Marks & Spencer’s Veganuary Tweet received 59 retweets and 295 likes. M&S has five times Greggs’ following on Twitter, emphasising the power of trending news. Many are predicting the vegan sausage roll will do record numbers thanks to Piers Morgan’s Tweet when it might have otherwise disappeared from public view. It reportedly sold out quickly in just a day.

An accidental history

Greggs’ sausage roll is not the first product to benefit from accidental advertising. People respond to messaging with emotion first, practicality second. Companies often try to tap into this and be sensationalist on their own – US burger chain Wendy’s is a prime example of this done right, striking the right tone between being insulting and funny. Doing this accidentally is much harder.

Technology giant Intel famously launched an advertising campaign in 1989 to urge computer manufacturers to switch to its latest microprocessor, the 386. Aimed at its chief consumers, Intel had successfully identified its target market and was approaching them effectively. However, it had the surprising effect of persuading consumers – who had never heard of the 386 – to ask for 386-based computers. Intel unintentionally both created demand and awareness for the product they were trying to market.

Perhaps a publicity stunt?

The question becomes: how can companies emulate ‘accidental advertising’? While sensationalism is one way, it can attract the wrong crowd and go horribly wrong. Snarky companies on Twitter can unintentionally offend and even alienate core audiences.

The best solution is to follow Greggs’ example – by making a strong post and casting as wide a net as possible. The vegan sausage scandal was so effective because Piers Morgan is well known and attacked an established brand. The audience was already there, aided by veganism already being topical.

Yet at its core Greggs was simply doing its job of advertising a new product. This made it the underdog in the ensuing Twitter feud and allowed Greggs to look like the victim. Again – Greggs could not have advertised their product or themselves better if they had spent vast amounts of revenue, which incidentally is the point of accidental advertising.

Laurens Grisel 

 

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