Fri 11 Sep 2009
Because we’ve ventured back onto the topic of Bonox, it occurred to me that many of you across the various ponds may be interested in the most recent news from Bonox’s creators, Kraft, who I’m sure you will know better for their much more famous product Vegemite (we’ve discussed it before here).
Vegemite has been around in Australia since 1922, and has remained virtually unchanged. A year or so back, though, Kraft did a survey on their website to find out what Australians ‘wanted’ in their Vegemite, quite obviously with an eye to boosting the sales of their atramentous spread. This notion that you can somehow ‘improve’ an already perfectly acceptable product, is, it has to be said, a quintessentially American one. Australians don’t tend to think like that.[tippy title=”†”]Well, Australians who don’t subscribe to nutty ever-accelerating economic models, anyway.[/tippy] So it will come as no surprise to you at all to know that Vegemite is now 100% American-owned. Like most of the rest of Australia. But I digress. Vegemite occupies that most privileged of positions on the supermarket shelf, alongside strawberry jam and peanut butter; it is what it is, and trying to make it into something else ‘more successful’ is really only the kind of fluffy dream that fills the restless sleep of advertising people.[tippy title=”‡”]Yeah, I know what you’re going to say – peanut butter comes in crunchy and smooth, but I really don’t want to contemplate a crunchy Vegemite.[/tippy]
Anyhoo, Kraft got all kinds of suggestions about how Vegemite could be improved – there was a website you could visit and put in your threepence-worth about how you’d like to see it combined with muesli or salmon paste or whatnot. There were a lot of rather nauseating suggestions and I speculate that Kraft neglected to understand that they were not really seeing a proper representation of the Vegemite-buying public, but rather a whole bunch of people who evidently thought it had some kind of defect (although there were some like me who visited the site and left comments to the effect that they should simply leave it alone). As it turns out this led, eventually, to the announcement of a wonderful new product which has been sitting on supermarket shelves for the past few months sporting the moniker ‘Name Me’. Yes, that’s right, in a transparently sad grab for publicity, the people who run Kraft’s advertising campaign have attempted to rope in the hoardes of loyal Happy Little Vegemites to come up with a name for the new stuff.
This is not the first time that Kraft have tried to spin Vegemite off into something else. You’d have thought they’d have learnt their lesson about fiddling with an iconic cultural lynchpin after their merger of Vegemite and cheese in the 1990s failed to gain traction in the world of toast-topping comestibles.
But no. Now they’re doing pretty much the same thing again – this time it’s Vegemite and cream cheese. And, my prediction is that it will follow the same ignominious trajectory of the 1990s effort, particularly in light of what I’m now about to tell you.
You will have noticed that I haven’t linked to anything Vegemite so far in this post. And it’s not going to happen. Because, when I was doing a bit of legwork for y’all to read about the grand Vegemite saga, I came across this incredible disclaimer on the Vegemite website:
All other use, copying or reproduction of any part of this Site is prohibited (save to the extent permitted by law). Without limiting the foregoing, no part of this Site may be reproduced on any other internet site, and you are not authorised to redistribute or sell the material or reverse engineer, disassemble, or otherwise convert it to any other form that people can use. You are also prohibited from linking the Site to another website in any way whatsoever (emphasis mine).
Putting it succinctly, Kraft expressly forbids you to link to the ‘new Vegemite’ site!
There are few things quite so sad as business people who just completely fail to grok the zeitgeist. I can’t say whether it’s Kraft or their advertising agency who has prompted the instigation of Vegemite v.2 and this harebrained web campaign, but I know where I’d put my money. Mr Kraft, if you’re reading this, sack those goobers. NO-ONE in this early part of the 21st century makes a website that you are not allowed to link to and protects it with a legal rider! That’s the internet equivalent of building your retail outlet in Upper Siberia and then posting security guards with tasers at the front door just in case anyone does find you.
I can only surmise that Kraft is so nervous about their new product that they really don’t want to attract attention to it. Either that or they have arrived at the quite unbalanced conviction that someone might want to steal the idea. Really, I can’t think of one single sensible explanation for why you’d want to prevent people from wording up your spread. Or spreading your word.
I haven’t tried the new ‘Vegemite’ and I had no real intention of doing so. I like Vegemite just as it is, and I miss it if I can’t get it (like when I visit… well… anywhere…). But as you know I will pull out all the stops in the service of science, so I make a pledge to you Acowlytes – this weekend I will throw off my cultural preconceptions and try the new ‘Name Me’. This will allow me to post an appropriate food review to coincide with Kraft’s Grand Reveal of the new name on September 21.
I’d link you to where you can find out all about that, but hey – my hands are tied.
ADDENDUM: It’s been pointed out that the legal rider on the Vegemite site is probably intended to stop users in the Vegemite ‘community’ from posting links from inside the forums to other places. If this indeed the case, for a legal document it’s sloppily ambiguous (viz: ‘in any way whatsoever’), still dopey and in all likelihood just as unenforceable. And it’s madness that you are compelled to agree (via an irksome and irritatingly flakey Flash crawler) to a set of legal requirements before you can even read the ‘No Name’ site – something pretty much unparalleled on any commercial site I’ve ever visited, and again vividly demonstrating Kraft’s lack of web acumen.
†Well, Australians who don’t subscribe to nutty ever-accelerating economic models, anyway.
‡Yeah, I know what you’re going to say – peanut butter comes in crunchy and smooth, but I really don’t want to contemplate a crunchy Vegemite.