Not raising prices isn’t news or worthy of a press release, it’s a bad PR stunt

As someone who’s worked with publicists and marketers for most of my career, I’m fascinated when companies attempt a major campaign and it blows up, getting the opposite result.

That’s seemingly where Loblaw’s (or Loblaw Companies Ltd.) is headed after its announcement on Monday that it’s freezing prices of the No Name product line until January.

When I got the “news” early in the day, I had the same reaction most journalists on the receiving end of the press release thought: Is this really news? The answer: No, it’s not, though it turned into that for the wrong reasons. (The fact they used the term “hits the brakes” also implied their pricing strategy is out of control.)

While many viewers might be grateful for the announcement, others were skeptical given that the company boasted net earnings of $387 million in its recent quarter, an increase of $12 million from the same time last year.

As such, the big companies have been called out by politicians and consumer groups about skyrocketing prices and record profits, all while people are struggling to feed themselves.

I’ve written in this column that, like many Canadians, I’ve adjusted my spending. For me, however, it’s not because I can’t afford to shop, I just refuse to give companies money when I feel taken advantage of.

Earlier this year, I shared with you that a “value pack” of eight chicken breasts at a Winnipeg Superstore was originally priced at $50. Even marked down with clearance stickers (only taking off 30 per cent) still didn’t make it a reasonable price for me to buy it. The entire meat section had dozens of packages “reduced to clear” because customers were sending a message: We’re not paying these prices.

So, how did the company respond? Putting out a statement claiming to be a savings hero by promising to not hike up prices on their private-label brand for the next three months.

Oh yes, applaud them. That company is so generous. Look how they’re helping us. Let’s run there now and load up our cart. Get outta here with that.

See, private-label brands are someone else’s product that just get different packaging. There’s nothing special or unique about it. Anybody can get them. Really.

How do I know? I co-own a company that does it. We had nothing to do with the creation of the products but we’ve branded and marketed them as our own creation. Shoppers have no idea we’re just another wholesale customer of a distributor that sticks our labels on the products.

As for Loblaw, it was a risky move to seemingly pat itself on the back with its we’re-committed-to-saving-you-money marketing campaign. It didn’t take long for people to smell a publicity scheme.

It’s one thing for ads to boast “saving you money” and use buzzy catchphrases, but to issue a statement when your industry is already under the microscope, proclaiming that you’re making a three-month commitment backfired hard. And I love it.

Sometimes companies need to be put on blast and get dragged when they’re doing wrong. I applaud people who have the courage to stand up to big corporations.

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