Social media

What does it take to make your social media as winning as Aldi’s #FreeCuthbert campaign?

Written by Rowan Kerek-Robertson, social media strategist

5 May 2021


Some brands just can’t stop themselves getting into a bit of cheeky brand banter on social media, specifically on Twitter. When done well it can be a joy as it puts the social into social media and can bring a brand to life. Maybe it feels a bit more real, and even a bit riskier. It certainly showcases the companies who really get social.

#FreeCuthbert is now already a social media legend, following the Marks & Spencer IP claim against Aldi’s Cuthbert caterpillar cake in the High Court. But in retrospect, it’s possible that M&S might regret their decision to pursue Aldi’s playful cake with legal action, because Aldi’s response on social media pivoted so quickly that M&S struggled to keep their follow up moves coming and public support soon pivoted to Aldi.

M&S’ social media isn’t bad. M&S Food’s TikTok account is a personal favourite, featuring both Percy Pig and Colin himself. But it’s fair to say that they’re using it as a broadcast marketing channel, rather than listening, reacting and creating a really natively social brand.

But Aldi have invested in their digital comms in a way that M&S haven’t. They were set up and ready to wage social media war through memes, banter and networking when the High Court claim landed on someone’s desk.

Aldi didn’t hold back and launched into a #FreeCuthbert campaign, safe in the knowledge that their charity move would almost certainly help to win public opinion. Funny and well written tweets poked fun in M&S and their well known brand taglines, feeding into the public enjoyment of the situation. Brands and influencers soon joined in, while Twitter jumped on the meme bandwagon.

The whole #FreeCuthbert thread on Twitter is worth a read, for a giggle, and to see what brand-defining, brave and risky social media looks like.

But how did Aldi actually turn what could have been a brand damaging event, into what really looks like a win? And what lessons can you learn from their approach for your business account?

Aldi had a crisis comms plan at the ready

Firstly, Aldi made a high-level business decision quickly in regards to their charity approach. In today’s fast moving digital world all companies should have a stress-tested crisis communications approach appropriate to their business and sector in their back pocket in case anything ever hits the fan.

It’s important to gather the decision makers you need quickly and plot your course of action with speed. Your crisis comms approach must also include guidelines on what to do if brand damaging news hits, or if there’s ever negative coverage or commentary on social media channels.

Aldi nailed this rapid response and a unified approach.

They gave their social media team space to be creative

They then knew to hand over to social and had a team of storytellers and digital creatives already working in this space with the tools and freedom to work their magic. And work they did!

Aldi’s social media is actually run by a PR company, McCann Worldgroup, who have showcased what a comms company spanning traditional PR, comms and social media can achieve. Undoubtedly using social listening techniques, coupled with funny, creative producers and a super swift sign-off process, they were empowered to read the room on social media and respond appropriately.

One of the biggest roadblocks that can stop a brand appearing creative and responsive on social media is the need to go through multiple senior management level sign offs. Instead, have clear social media guidelines in place that all teams are agreed upon, and trust your creative team to deliver what they know works best.

Know what makes your social media channel tick

Twitter. Tik Tok. Instagram. They all have their own memes, big names, influencers and ways of responding and a native social account makes the most of its in-built community. The Aldi team knew this and responded in a format Twitter users love: an all brand pile on.

While Aldi hung out with the other UK supermarkets, and everyone from Spurs to Judge Rinder and BrewDog, summoning up more likes and views by the minute, M&S managed just two tweets. Their brand account still hasn’t tweeted since 20 April.

That encouraged the story to go wider, with other accounts wanting to join in the action. So other brands threw caterpillar hats into the ring too, like Co-op and Which?.

And while court cases definitely aren’t a laughing matter, caterpillar cakes actually are. So working with a subject matter which is slightly hard to take seriously, and already being active and credible in the social space (Aldi were actually responding to real complaints and queries over social media during this time), meant that Aldi also got brilliant engagement from thousands of people sharing their responses.

How can you bring the Cuthbert magic to your social media?

These aren’t actions that are appropriate to all brands. But where you want to bring your brand alive and build relationships with customers and potential customers, creating relevant social – and being ready to jump on issues creatively with the support of your senior team – there’s a lot to learn from the caterpillar wars of 2021.

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