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Marketing Failure Case: VkusVill, Russian organic grocer with two stores in Amsterdam

When it comes to marketing and PR it is crucial for any brand to understand its target audience and the cultural context where it operates. It is also important to have consistent values and own up to any statements that the company produces.

VkusVill - a large Russian organic food store chain (they have expanded internationally in 2020 opening its first location in Amsterdam) has recently failed to do so, which backfired on them badly.

The marketing department of VkusVill has released a bold and very daring (for Russian standards) post.

To understand the context better, we need to clarify that in Russia any public display of LGBT-related content is considered “gay propaganda”, and therefore is illegal.

The article featured an LGBT+ family of ethical vegans who support fair trade and provide shelter to LGBT families which cannot find acceptance in their own families. The publication circulated around the Internet and gained support and a lot of positive responses among the liberal part of the population.

Sounds great. But….

In less than a week VkusVill removed the original post, substituting it with a picture of a traditional Russian family, and released an official statement:

“We consider this publication to be our mistake, which was the result of individual employees’ unprofessionalism.”

"the original advertising article has sparked an outburst of threats, hurt the feelings of a large number of our customers, employees, partners, and suppliers."

Not only did they not own up to their own original statement, but they have also blamed it on the individual employees.

If the original article has caused a lot of anger among the conservatives, the following actions of the company made the liberal part of the population turn against VkusVill… leaving the company with no supporters and a major PR crisis on its hands.

Dutch VkusVill Instagram account has also supported the original VkusVill statement and made an Instagram post that caused a lot of angry responses among the Russian-speaking population in the Netherlands.

It is extremely hard to restore public reputation after a scandal of this size, and it proves that brands should not get into political and social discussions only for the sake of hype.

And if an employee undertook a decision that management does not agree with, it is the company’s responsibility to own up to its actions instead of putting blame on individuals.