In July, Trader Joe’s found itself in a position familiar to corporate America in recent months – a viral social media campaign leveled serious accusations against the brand and demanded immediate action. In Trader Joe’s case, a viral petition called for the grocery chain to “remove racist branding and packaging from its stores,” referencing Trader Joe’s branding of various ethnic products. For example, Italian products came under the banner of “Trader Giotto’s,” Chinese products were branded as “Trader Ming’s” and so on.
In the current social media landscape, serious and even defamatory accusations can arise instantaneously, allowing little to no time for the target to react. The Trader Joe’s response is a case study in how to do it right.
Here’s a link to the full statement.
First, Trader Joe’s statement immediately addresses the accusation and steers right into it, defending the branding as a clever and descriptive way to “show appreciation for other cultures.” From the statement’s opening, Trader Joe’s avoids a panicked and overly defensive tone and avoids the cliched responses of most companies, such as describing the company’s record on race. Trader Joe’s simply rejects the racist claim and explains its thought behind the branding, underscoring that most customers agree with its messaging.
Second, the company makes it clear that it relies on feedback from customers and employees to drive its decision-making process – and not online petitions. In doing so, the statement also leaves the door open for any necessary future changes, saying that Trader Joe’s will not hesitate to take action when it feels there is a need to do so. Clearly, though, the company rejects the notion that such change is needed now.
At a time when pressure and scrutiny on companies can arise from anyone with a Twitter account, it is imperative that brands have a clear view of whose opinions should actually drive change. In Trader Joe’s case, it’s clear that they listen most closely to their own customers and employees, highlighting the commitment they feel toward their two most important constituencies.
Third, much of the statement’s genius lies in its simplicity. Stylistically, there are none of the overheated phrases that you find in most PR pablum. Instead, you find basic, calm expression that avoids drama.
Ultimately, Trader Joe’s believes its branding does not compromise its responsibility to customers and society as a whole to fight racism and social injustice. In its statement, it both instead acknowledges the times in which we live but makes it clear that targeting Trader Joe’s for racial insensitivity is tantamount to steering a shopping cart in the wrong direction in a one-way aisle.