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Blog: Sainsbury’s poster gaffe was simply wrong channel

Sainsbury's poster gaffe was simply wrong channel

October 8, 2014

Just a hunch, but I suspect the internal comms team at Sainsbury’s HQ have had a week they’d probably wish to forget.

The supermarket giant mistakenly placed a motivational internal poster – aimed at inspiring employees to encourage shoppers to spend more money in store – in one of its shop windows for all to see. Cue much derision on social media and national newspapers covering the story with a certain amount of glee.

But – apart from perhaps using the wrong channel to inspire staff – I struggle to see exactly what all the hullabaloo is all about.

The poster in question stated: “Fifty pence challenge: Let’s encourage every customer to spend an additional 50p during each shopping trip between now and the year-end.”

It was spotted by eagle-eyed TV freelancer Chris Dodd in the window of a Sainsbury’s store in east London – the image being retweeted and shared thousands of times.

Of course, competitors couldn’t wait to jump on the bandwagon, producing their own posters mocking Sainsbury’s advert gaffe.

But here’s the catch in my eyes.

Apart from appearing a little brazen, what has Sainsbury’s actually done that’s so wrong to cause such a reaction?

Surely every business worth its salt aspires to encourage customers to spend more?

It’s at the very heart of the capitalist culture that we find ourselves in – except you can’t say it out loud apparently without causing offence. Fair enough, we can be a sensitive bunch at times.

But does Sainsbury’s really deserve such widespread condemnation?

True, it could be deemed a little callous. However I find firms’ claims that customers – with no mention of the profits they seek – come first to be far more nauseating.

Displaying a poster that was intended for an internal audience is an IC fail, a simple fact that cannot be denied.

But I would suggest the gaffe originated from the decision to cascade information about the 50p challenge approach via posters rather than face-to-face.

There can be little doubt that, at times, back-to-basics comms still provide the most impact in certain situations.

Perhaps the posters would have worked well alongside team briefings, spelling out the aims of the campaign before it got underway.

Certainly a more inclusive approach would have ensured that the misunderstanding about where the poster should be displayed would never have happened.

Channel selection can be just as essential as content, making it worth your time to plan ahead fully.

Mistakes happen, of course, but the clear communication can definitely help to limit them.

A Sainsbury’s spokesman said: “We often use posters to make store targets fun and achievable for our colleagues.

“They are intended for colleague areas in the store, but this one was mistakenly put on public display.”