Depending on who you want to believe, the decision by Arnott’s to restock original recipe pizza Shapes, five months after the Australian subsidiary of US food giant Campbells ditched them in favour of a “new and improved” version, is either a victory for people power, or a cynical marketing stunt.
Either way, Arnott’s appears to be struggling on the consumer goodwill front in a face of overwhelming cynicism and anger.
— Duncan Underwood (@duncanunderwood) September 4, 2016
Just six months ago, Arnott’s declared its “improved” versions were for fans, saying “you asked for more flavour Shapes lovers, so get a big flavour hit from the new and improved Shapes available in the biscuit aisle now”.
Today, Arnott’s announced the return of “beloved” original pizza Shapes “in response to popular demand” later this month.
“We’ve been listening to feedback. Aussies have clearly shown us the love they have for Original Pizza Shapes and we’re happy to announce the product will be returning to shelves over the coming weeks. We’ve been humbled by Australia’s passion for Shapes and would like to thank our fans for their patience,” the biscuit maker said in a statement.
When Arnott’s rolled out the new lines, it was canny enough to keep the original version of its best-selling flavour, barbecue, on the shelves too, alongside the original chicken and savoury flavours.
And when people tasted the improved result, it was almost universally canned.
Lifehacker editor Chris Jager described the new pizza flavour as “unquestionably rank” in a taste test that saw most of the panel back the old flavours over the new ones. Someone else compared the new barbecue flavour to the taste of ants.
Arnott’s sells around 74 million boxes of Shapes annually and told Mumbrella today that sales had been “mixed” with small declines on some flavours, while sales of barbecue had grown by more than 24%.
The company denied bringing back original pizza flavour was a marketing stunt to keep the brand in the headlines
“It’s not a stunt, it was never a stunt,” a spokesperson told Mumbrella.
Arnott’s told Mumbrella the backlash “humbled” the business, which had to increase its response teams to deal with the reaction, which included more than 2000 people calling to demand the return of the original pizza flavour.
The company’s marketing director, Rowena Ditzell, said they had enough data six weeks ago to make the decision to reinstate the original pizza version, and subsequently spent that time rebuilding the biscuit line, getting the ingredients and updating the packaging.
The cost of having to do that would have made it “a very elaborate stunt” if that was the company’s intention, she said.
The move is a reminder that trusted brands should be careful messing with their formulas – a lesson Vegemite learnt when it crowdsourced the “iSnack 2.0” name for what’s now known as Cheeseybite, while “New Coke” remains a benchmark case study in marketing epic fails.