Thanks to social media, communication between brand and customer is now instantaneous and bi-directional. Nowadays, brands can see exactly what is being said about them, and their responses can be hugely beneficial for their overall brand appearance.


The UK groceries giant Sainsbury’s has this week released a vegan ‘cheese’, and managed to generate more attention than a cheese ever would have had it been announced in a traditionally marketed manner. How, you ask? Essentially, this is a great example of consistently keeping a sharp eye on comments and feedback of your product or service, and reacting quickly. In simple terms, this is all that Sainsbury’s have done this week, and the results have been frankly brilliant to watch. Let us explain.


It all started with a disgruntled ‘real cheese fan’ who appeared to be incredibly angry that Sainsbury’s had given their coconut-based cheese substitute the same name as it’s mammal milk counterpart. In terms of traditional definition, it is an important piece of criteria to hit if something is to be officially cheese and of course, coconuts are not mammals. The cheese and wine lover then took to social media to express their anger at this stating: “call it Gary or something don’t call it cheese because IT’S NOT CHEESE!!!!!!” The vegan community responded by embracing the idea, and referring to all vegan cheese as ‘Gary’.


This is where the Sainsbury’s social media team came into their own with the release of their new product:

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This image was posted on both Facebook and Twitter, and the results were incredible. The Twitter post alone had 1.6K retweets and 2.8K likes, and the internet was flooded with posts, pages and pictures all sporting the tongue-in-cheek humour that Sainsbury’s had demonstrated with their earlier image. A Facebook page was started titled ‘it’s not Vegan Cheese, it’s Gary’ which achieved 7,900 likes, and 200 people sharing their meme ideas to the group. Users also have ‘it’s not vegan cheese, it’s Gary’ t-shirts available for purchase!


All of this commotion and engagement around what is essentially a pretty simple product shows the power of reactive social media activity. This is not the first time that Sainsbury’s have listened to it’s customers and made a change, however small the change may seem.


In 2011 Sainsbury’s head office received a letter from Lily Robinson, aged 3 ½, who said that she thought tiger bread looked more like giraffe bread. She received this letter in response:



Once again social media showed its power with an online campaign supporting Lily’s idea after her mum shared the letter online. The campaign generated so much support that Sainsbury’s did indeed change the name of their bread which was announced on Twitter:


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People are now so open to communicating with brands and brands communicating back, particularly online indicating that the opportunities for social engagement are massive. Asking questions to huge numbers of people can be done at the click of a button, adverts can be tailored by geographic location or any other demographics, and send out links to your website to generate traffic.


These examples from Sainsbury’s show how important it is to be tuned in to what people are saying about your company. Social media can be used as a method of dealing with issues and complaints, but these examples display quite clearly how opportunities can arise out of something that at first appeared to be so miniscule in order to provide massive brand exposure in a very positive light. In listening to customer’s opinions and reacting to them Sainsbury’s have built up a relationship with their customers whereby they feel valued and appreciated whilst also generating publicity around a new product. Very clever indeed – Sainburys we salute you.