Coles supermarket criticised over 'tone deaf' new ad campaign

'Maybe stop dancing around and give some serious savings to the people who are really doing it tough'

Coles' new television ad has been met with a wave of criticism from frustrated shoppers who have branded the marketing strategy "tone deaf" — and it's the latest example of corporations misreading "household budget pain" consumer expert Joel Gibson told Yahoo News Australia.

As millions across the country continue to grapple with the nation's crushing cost-of-living crisis, and as recent data reveals the prices of many supermarket staples have soared well above pre-pandemic levels, Coles has been accused of being unable to read the room over the ad's overly-jolly take on groceries.

"Australia we've never been more excited," a voiceover is heard saying throughout the 30-second clip announcing its 'Hands Down' campaign. "Whenever you see the big red hand at Coles, it means you're getting great value hands-down. Down and staying down for three months. If you're down for more value Australia, there's great value hands-down at Coles."

A Coles ad is seen depicting staff wearing large red hands.
Coles is facing major backlash over its new TV 'Hands Down' ad. Source: YouTube

Aussies fume over ad

While some may not see any issue with the video, others have called out what they say is hypocrisy at its finest from the supermarket giant.

"Prices going up every week," one user wrote on Facebook in response to the video. "Australia needs more competition," another said. "Your specials are still more expensive than standard price from a year ago. Explain that!" said another in frustration.

"How much did you make this year? Maybe stop dancing around and give some serious savings to the people who are really doing it tough," a man said. "How are prices down when you’re actively price gouging and worsening the cost of living crisis within Australia?" came another accusation.

Coles responds

Responding to a number of angry comments online, the retailer said it's focussed on combating cost of living pressures.

"We believe all Australians should be able to put quality food on the table for their families, at a good price," Coles said on Facebook.

"That is what we are focused on at Coles, particularly as they face high cost of living with rising interest rates, and household expenses like energy and fuel.

"A profitable business puts us in a position to invest in value like our Great Value Hands Down campaign, and put thousands of products on special each week. It also helps us invest in our Flybuys program for our customers to save and have confidence they can buy good food in our supermarkets."

A Coles ad is seen with staff wearing large red hands.
People from all over the country have criticised the ad for being tone deaf at a time when Aussies are struggling to put food on the table. Source: YouTube.

Supermarkets have a tough job ahead regaining trust, expert says

Consumer expert Joel Gibson said big corporations continue to misread "just how much household budget pain" families are in.

"This ad is just the latest example," Mr Gibson told Yahoo News Australia. "Qantas is obviously copping it left, right and centre in recent weeks for announcing record profits at a time when airfares are through the roof, and people can't afford to take a holiday.

"But even before the focus shifted to Qantas, there was quite a bit of anger about Coles and Woolies and about big insurance groups and energy retailers announcing their profits that were up sometimes five or 10 per cent on last year, at the same time as they're increasing our prices by 10 per cent or 20.

"So I think Coles has dropped its new campaign into the middle of this seething pit of discontent and they shouldn't be surprised if there's a bit of blowback because people are really struggling, and they feel like businesses just don't get it."

Positive signs from Coles campaign

Mr Gibson said there is a silver lining however. "I actually think the Coles campaign is positive in some ways, because the fact that they're prepared to talk about discounting again, even though it's very selected discounting, actually shows that they're modelling says prices are coming back to us," he explained.

"So if grocery inflation was still at 10 per cent, then Coles wouldn't be launching a campaign like this. So I think, you know, consumers can take some positive signs from it."

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