Vegemite contest sparks revolt

What do you get when you take an iconic food product, change its ingredients and release it under a kitschy new name, prompting cries of outrage and a storm of media coverage: A marketing failure or a publicity coup?

The executives at Kraft Foods Australia, the company that makes Vegemite – the salty, gooey yeast paste beloved by millions of Australians – are still awaiting the answer to that question after a recent experiment with the country’s most recognized food product went awry.

It all began in July when jars of caramel-brown Vegemite mixed with cream cheese began appearing on supermarket shelves with brightly colour labels inviting consumers to ‘Name Me.’ After weeks of secrecy, during which the company sold more than 3 million jars of the new product to a population of just 22 million people, Kraft took an expensive advertising slot during a nationally televised Australian-rules football final Sept. 26 to announce its winner: Vegemite iSnack 2.0.

The reaction was fierce. Vegemite-loving consumers took to the Internet to voice their collective indignation about the name. Thousands of Twitter posts, at least a dozen Facebook groups and a Web site dedicated to ‘Names that are better than iSnack 2.0’ blasted American-owned Kraft for tampering with an Australian icon.

One online commentator suggested that the 27-year-old designer who had submitted the winning name be tarred with Vegemite and forced to run naked through the streets of Sydney ‘as retribution for his cultural crime.’ Others called the name ‘uStupid 1.0’ and ‘un-Australian.’

After four days, Kraft announced that it would put the name back to a vote.

This time, it put forward six rather more conventional choices – including Vegemate, Snack mate and Vegemild – from which Cheesy bite was elected through an online and telephone poll. The controversy quickly died away.