Monday, November 12, 2012

Whole Foods' "Ad of the Day" highlights differences with TJ's

I see that a few days ago, ADWEEK highlighted a cool animated TV spot for Whole Foods as its 'Ad of the Day'. That's a feather in the cap for Olson, the Minneapolis ad agency that handles Whole Foods advertising in the Midwest. (It's a mystery to me why Whole Foods would pay to produce this ad and not run it across the country, but that's a post for another day.)

Olson deserves extra credit for selling Whole Foods on an ad in which the cook/narrator spoils their main dish at Thanksgiving. (In another spot, the dog eats the turkey.) By writing these scenarios, Olson immediately put Whole Foods in a completely different space than any other grocer. All of the rest of them are emphasizing just how perfect their food always is, and promising that their customers will be the hostess with the mostest. But Olson didn't just differentiate Whole Foods, the agency also turned the ad into a subtle message about relationships, and not food. That's a great choice for Whole Foods, which has long been derided as 'Whole Paycheck'. The subtle message here is, "It's not what the food is worth, it's what your friends and family are worth."

Olson's spots for Whole Foods encourage customers to get into the kitchen and cook -- an activity that fewer and fewer Americans take time to do, in an age when more than half of all meals are prepared outside the home. The spots reassure Americans unfamiliar with their own kitchens by telling them that their friends and family will appreciate their efforts, whether the results are worthy of a Michelin star or not. Olson and Whole Foods also know that getting people back into the kitchen is the best way to make them appreciate quality ingredients. That, in turn, is another good way to inure the grocer against consumer pushback over premium prices.

Although Trader Joe's is a pretty unique grocery concept, Whole Foods is the chain most often compared to it. You'll be able to freeze a turkey in hell the day you ever see Trader Joe's running TV commercials, but I think Olson's spots for Whole Foods highlight another key difference between the two chains.

While it's true that Trader Joe's brings in turkeys before Thanksgiving, the store is not really in the business of selling ingredients, it's in the business of selling prepared foods. For much of its history, Trader Joe's didn't sell produce at all. Then, when customers insisted on it, the chain tried to sell all of its produce in plastic 'clamshell' packaging. That too was an idea rejected by customers, so that now when you walk into a Trader Joe's store, it looks as if produce is roughly as important to Trader Joe's as it is to other grocery stores.

But the truth is obvious to anyone who, as I have, has spent a few hundred hours working a Trader Joe's cash register. Nine customers in ten roll up with carts full of prepared foods, not ingredients. Those nine don't cook the food they buy at Trader Joe's, they just heat it and eat it.

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