In a lesson from the BrewDog school of tiresome marketing, Oatly is reminding consumers of all its past mistakes in an attempt to stick it to the man and the apparently unfair criticisms levelled against it.
The oat milk brand had its latest ad campaign, titled ‘It’s Like Milk But Made For Humans’, banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland after it ruled the phrase ‘But Made for Humans’ implied cows milk was not suitable for human consumption.
In response to the ban, Oatly placed “censored ads” on posters across Dublin and Belfast with its new Feck-Oatly.com URL covering the original tagline.
The Feck Oatly website includes a list, presented in Oatly’s trademark knowing and slightly sarky tone, ”detailing the ‘mis-steps’ we’ve made along the way to creating a more sustainable food system”. And the list isn’t short.
Oatly’s marketing strategy, through the likes of this new site, aims to convince consumers that it is – despite being one of the biggest alt-milk companies in the world – young, cool and in its words “punk”.
Oh, and it wants to be transparent. “We see it as an act of transparency because sometimes you have to understand the worst about an oat drink company before you can appreciate the best.”
What irks about this campaign is that, in a time when the actions of companies matter, including those claiming to be ethical, it is also incredibly tiring the brand seems to pretend it’s done nothing wrong, and to make a joke of the whole thing.
Feck Oatly oat milk campaign
Among the list of mis-steps published on Feck-Oatly.com is taking on Blackstone as an investor, a company that was accused of having links to the deforestation of the Amazon at the time. A clear contradiction of Oatly’s green and climate-conscious image.
In the depths of the PR crisis over the investment in 2020, “the outrage was growing and the world felt like it was crumbling around us”, the website says. But thanks to climate change, driven by things like the continued use of fossil fuels and deforestation, the world really is in crisis.
Treading with a lighter environmental foot is core to the oat milk brand’s claims that it tries to help consumers move “towards a life that’s less taxing on the planet”. But that includes owning the decisions you take. After all, there are other investors out there.
Also included in its Feck Oatly campaign is a nod to its former decision to sell oat residue to pig farms, which understandably, as a vegan brand, concerned customers.
‘It lives in their head rent-free’
As an advocate of healthier, vegan lifestyles, consumers might also expect Oatly to support other vegan brands, especially smaller ones. However, among its list of mis-steps is its decision to file a lawsuit against much smaller UK-based brand Glebe Farm and its PureOaty range. Oatly tried to sue the company over the similarity of its branding to Oatly’s. The oat milk giant lost.
As Glebe Farm owner Philip Rayner told The Grocer when asked about the Feck Oatly campaign, “losing the PureOaty trademark case against Glebe clearly still lives in their head rent-free”.
The problem with a campaign like this one, for companies like Oatly that are built on the idea of providing ethical solutions to people and planet concerns, is that the mistakes are passed off as a joke. But it’s not funny.
Had Oatly thought less about being seen as ‘cool’ and owned its mistakes in a genuine and thoughtful way, this campaign could have been powerful. However, all it shows is not only has the brand “fecked up” this time and multiple times in the past, but that it doesn’t take genuine responsibility for its mistakes.
What consumers need are ethical companies that don’t make such significant “mis-steps” and if they do, don’t make a big joke out of them.