Sealord cans Montag after customer backlash

Customer backlash has forced Sealord to cast its latest ad, starring reality TV star Heidi Montag, to Davy Jones’ Locker.

After screening the new campaign for less than two weeks, Sealord has pulled the ads from YouTube and television.

The ads featured Montag, a reality TV star partly famous for the amount of plastic surgery she has undergone, getting feedback from “real” Kiwis on Sealord’s frozen hoki fillets.

When the ad came out, Sealord general manager for New Zealand Stu Yorston said it was about the juxtaposition of what’s real and what’s not.

“It’s the idea that our fish is real, it’s real fish made from real fillets, in the freezer, and Heidi, whilst a lovely person, is not so real in terms of her background in terms of reality TV and the like,” he said.

But after a flurry of messages from customers calling for the Heidi Montag ads to metaphorically walk the plank, Sealord cast them overboard.

The company issued a statement on Facebook last Friday stating:

“We heard you NZ! You told us that you loved our REAL fish but not Heidi Montag. So, we listened and changed our TV Ad to star only REAL people. This goes to air on Saturday but here’s a sneak peek. Thanks for keeping us REAL.”

Yorston says Sealord got feedback from a variety of sources, including family and friends, who said they didn’t like it, and responded rapidly.

“There were a large number who disliked it – too large for us – people weren’t getting out of it that [Heidi Montag] was fake and our product was real – we wanted to do something about that,” he says.

“We did some quick research on Monday and by Wednesday we got that the message takeout was right – that our fish was fantastic – but that Heidi was very polarising, so on Wednesday we decided to pull the ad and put a new ad on TV.”

The new ad has avoided huge recovery costs by simply cutting out footage of Montag, leaving in Kiwi product tasters, and opening with the message “we heard you”.

Facebook fans have reacted positively to the move with many pleased their voices were heard.

When asked about conspiracy theories that the campaign was an elaborate set-up to elicit a good response from customers when pulled, Sealord media contact Alison Sykora laughs.

“You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, aren’t you?”

The decision to pull the ad came after a barrage of complaints from the public on Sealord’s various media channels.

Some of the complaints centered on recent news of Sealord cutting 97 jobs in Nelson.

The seafood retailer released a statement in late September saying its wetfish factory at Port Nelson was losing money, and there would need to be job cuts.

But many customers found the disconnect between spending on celebrities and job losses for Nelson staff too much to stomach.

Sandra McLean: “How much did she get paid?? How many staff could that have kept in employ?”

In another post, Sealord offered Facebook fans $3 off frozen hoki fillets, but fans responded they would rather pay the $3 than see other people lose their jobs.

Joanne Collyer: “I’d prefer that the 100 workers in Nelson didn’t get laid off!” 

Sealord replied: “So would we ‪Joanne Collyer‬ but that part of the business isn’t viable so we have to reduce costs and focus on the parts that are.”

Yorston says while the Heidi Montag mistake wasn’t cheap, the ad had to change, and he was pleased with the speed the researchers and agency Ogilvy turned it around.

“We’re not too big to say we got it wrong.

“Any mistake like that isn’t cheap – but that’s irrelevant. You’ve gotta do the right thing by the brand and by the consumers. We’re not pointing fingers, it’s ‘get on and do the right thing’, and as fast as possible.”

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