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Coles and Woolies battle for “Greenest” Grocer

August 2021

It’s rare to see advertisers release campaigns with near identical messages over the same weekend – let alone two of Australia’s top retailers.

But that’s just what Coles and Woolworths did recently, with the retail giants announcing their commitment to becoming powered by 100% renewable energy by 2025. It comes off the back of almost 60 multinationals pledging to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.

We’ve seen a more concerted effort by brands over recent years to meet growing consumer demand for eco-friendly products – look no further than Garnier’s launch of Shampoo Bars. This was acknowledged as much by Coles’ CMO, Lisa Ronson, during the campaign’s launch:

“We’ve been reviewing our marketing campaigns through a sustainability lens. While very popular, we must listen to our customers who say their priorities are changing […].”

Despite communicating essentially the same message, the creative delivery was very different – while Coles went down a deeper, more traditionally emotive storytelling route, Woolworths’ ‘Today’s Fresh Food People’ stayed true to the brand’s long-standing positioning – utilizing a more cheerful and up-tempo style, while keeping the brand’s fresh produce heartland front-and-center.

Which retail giant’s sustainability message won the hearts and minds of consumers? We put both ads to the test using our 3 C’s framework:

  • Captivate: Does it attract and retain attention, and engage in an emotional way?
  • Connect: Does it leverage unique branding properties to create instant recognition?
  • Compel: Does it leave people with a lasting impression about the brand?

Captivate

Coles’ emotionally-led narrative touched on the impact the retailer has had on the lives of many generations of farmers, while also highlighting how its sustainable practices are helping shape Australia’s future. The approach and messaging proved highly likeable, with the cinematic visuals keeping viewers engaged, while the deep, calming, and reassuring voiceover informed them of Coles’ eco-friendly initiatives.

Woolworths opted for a more fun and upbeat approach, with the boppy 60” spot featuring “green” rhyming to bring the messaging to life in a catchy way. While the play on characters’ names was found clever by some, its repetitiveness was the source of irritation for others.

Coles and Woolworths Sustainability Ad Testing - Captivate


Connect

Woolworths’ sustainability messaging was built upon the brand’s long-running ‘Fresh Food People’ platform, and along with a concerted focus on its hero green color, resulted in a very strong fit with the brand. Being contextually set in-store and putting employees at the forefront in their green-checkered uniforms left people in little doubt who the ad was for.

In comparison, Coles doesn’t have as many cues to rely upon in the absence of Curtis, with the brand’s ‘Value the Australian way’ platform (and warmer, more deliberately emotional positioning) launching less than 12 months ago. Despite this, the ad incorporated imagery of its stores past and present – and its recognizable delivery truck – to at least ensure the brand played a visible role in the story.

Coles and Woolies Sustainability Green Ad Effectiveness - Captivate


Compel

Despite their similar intent, the impressions viewers were left with about each brand varied considerably. Not lost within Woolworths’ eco-friendly message was reinforcement of the brand’s ‘fresh food’ heartland – making this as much of a focus as their sustainability pledge.

Coles took a different approach – instead prioritizing the communication of its new target of ‘zero hunger, zero waste, and zero emissions’, while encouraging viewers to help them reach this outcome ‘together’. This strategy gave viewers a greater sense of personal responsibility – helping generate stronger affinity toward the brand while simultaneously enhancing take-out of Coles being a ‘good corporate citizen’.

Importantly, despite these differing approaches, both brands ultimately got across the preeminent message that they’re committed to using clean/renewable energy in all stores by 2025 – something that was recalled in equal measure across both ads.

Woolworths and Coles Sustainability Advertising Testing - Compel


Conclusion

Brands are becoming more attuned to the growing importance of sustainability to consumer decision-making, with the release of coinciding campaigns from two of Australia’s largest retailers underlining this.

What this case study also highlights is that rational messaging doesn’t need to be delivered in a dry and uninteresting way – nor does the way it’s deployed have to be a creative departure from the brand’s recognized style. 

Coles’ launch of its ‘Value the Australian way’ platform for Christmas 2020 was a testament to this; its storytelling focused on largely predictable and category-generic themes, providing little opportunity to build the drama and excitement necessary to elicit a strong emotional response – subsequently resulting in average outcomes. Here, the narrative had real meaning and personal relevance, and was brought to life in a way that struck a chord with viewers – subsequently elevating both the emotional response and brand impact.

Woolworths and Coles Ad Testing - Performance Summary

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