Discount supermarket chain Aldi has received a backlash for a late January campaign in which it paid an influencer to spend only £25 a week to feed her family.
The #AldiPoorestDayChallenge featured influencer Natalie Lee, whose Instagram account @stylemesunday has 76,000 followers, documenting her one-week food diary in the Daily Mirror.
Aldi's consumer PR agency Frank explained that the campaign had intended to show consumers how to save on their food bill, and apologised for any offence caused.
A spokesperson said: "The campaign was designed to show how people can save on their grocery shopping and was widely covered positively by national media. By setting a challenge for people to shop within a budget we didn’t intend to cause any offence and have taken on board the social media criticism."
Ronke Lawal, founder of Ariatu PR, told PRWeek the campaign comes across as if Aldi’s creative team, or the agency partner they hired, are "far removed from social realities on the ground".
"The concept is not necessarily a bad one (showing how good value Aldi is for those on limited budgets), but the wording and framing of the challenge is insensitive and ill-thought[-out] – and it is further compounded by actually paying a social-media influencer to take part," she said.
"If members of the decision-making teams can't comprehend what poverty really is, and thus are insensitive to the very nature of what it really means to be poor in this country, it isn't surprising that they would turn a real struggle into hashtags and paid campaigns for influencers to promote."
Lawal believes the campaign indicates that the creative team behind the idea are not representative of the customers they serve.
"When they come up with these concepts it gets signed off because nothing is changing internally," she said. "The campaign also instigates a ‘performance of poverty’. There are many people in this country who have to use food banks that don't have a choice how much they spend. Aldi could have found a much better way to utilise influencer marketing tactics without this tone-deaf attempt."
Authenticity is key
PRWeek approached two agencies that specialise in comms for the food industry. Harvey Choat, managing director of Nexus Communications, told PRWeek this campaign highlights a common mistake in influencer marketing – a lack of authenticity.
Choat said getting authenticity right is essential for campaigns that dealt with difficult social issues.
"From both a brand and influencer perspective, there is a very fine line to tread in terms of ethics," he said.
"Influencer activations have become the default, when what would have worked better here is a serious partnership with a poverty charity based on solid research and a call on government and other stakeholders to ease the burden on families."
The authenticity problem was also noted by Palm PR & Digital co-founder Emily Keogh.
"Within an agency, it’s easy to get caught up in the creative process for a brand, but it is absolutely essential to interrogate every way that content can be interpreted from the outset," Keogh said.
"Brands need to have a wide lens on current issues and understand their communities and shopper demographics in a meaningful way."
Keogh advocates that brands and their agency partners take sufficient time to carry out due diligence of an influencer’s content as well as audiences, "to ensure that they can promote your brand in a positive way to the right people: authenticity is key".