Tesco takes the cake by asking you to bring home the bacon.


Tesco makes a generous donation to our library of multicultural mistakes, with this Ramadan blunder: bacon flavoured chips on a stand with the message Ramadan Mubarak.

The scene of the marketing crime? The Tesco store on Liverpool Street in London, not far from Whitechapel's East London Mosque, one of the largest Muslim places of worship in Europe. An amused Muslim shopper saw the stand and tweeted it and it quickly rippled through the twitterverse, before the chips were moved.

Who moved the Pringles? Tesco. To their credit they acknowledged their mistake and issued a statement:

We are proud to offer a wide range of meals and products to meet the needs of our customers during Ramadan. We recognise these Pringles weren’t in the most suitable place and our store colleagues have now moved them.

As I've commented elsewhere before, marketing and advertising are all about perception and persuasion. Consumer opinion both reflects and affects brand perception.

Interestingly, some of the reaction in marketing circles has been less on the mark than Tesco's.

One media professional defended the mistake saying "if you walk down to any large Tesco you will be surprised to see the number of Muslims picking up this product" - a classic reactive defence based on anecdotal evidence.

We have to be cautious with such evidence when acting as professional counsel to our clients. I have observed some of my (devout but heterodox) Muslim friends indulge in a dram of Scotch from time to time, but it would be an act of insanity for me to recommend to an alcohol client that she begin advertising Eid specials on Scotch based on my observation.

Another commenter observed, "I believe you are from India" and reminded me that there are Muslims there who sell alcohol during Ramadan.

Yes, I am from India, but my knowledge of the actions of individual Muslims cannot be used to explain away a marketing error. Marketing for the most part is a social-risk-averse, share-building discipline in which marketers tend not to risk slim brand marketing budgets on the behaviour of the individual, but rather to invest on the preferences of majorities so as to achieve success on a scale shareholders can go out to dinner on.

Niche brands - like hedge funds - often swim the other way but it is rare for a large brand to do such a thing. When it happens, without all the accompanying fanfare, one can be relatively certain it was a mistake. I'm no fan of political correctness in a conversation, but would think it horrifying in our times, if a brand were to use that to excuse the ignorance, laziness or negligence that produced a racist or sexist advertising message.

Our business is all about influencing consumer perception positively.

This focus is often lost in these days of mindless network ad distribution and aggregation, when the motto seems to be "anything goes as long as it goes everywhere" – placing a premium on efficiency of distribution over the effectiveness of the message distributed.

In reality, the wrong ad placed in the wrong medium or the wrong product placed on the wrong shelf could easily leave a bad taste in the mouth.

This is surely not something Tesco intended. A single act of thoughtless product selection on its part resulted in it knocking over its own well-meant Ramadan display.

Tesco's Pringles mistake was neither racist or sexist - it was just dumb - and, I believe, just a mistake.

Like selling combs to bald men. Yes, there will always be a few vain men who buy combs for that single lonely strand they nurse. But most bald men will either treat the message like unaddressed mail or feel insulted by its utter thoughtlessness.

Neither response is the desired response.


Gavin Barrett is Ideawallah at Barrett and Welsh, a Toronto agency that specializes in the new Canada, a magical place where all cultures are understood, shared and enjoyed.

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