Thursday, July 12, 2007

John Mackey Shows Us The Other Side of the Coin

One of the great things about Web 2.0 technology for corporate marketers is that it lets us encourage conversations between our knowledgeable employees and our loyal customers.

One terrifying thing about Web 2.0 technology for corporate marketers is that it enables conversation between our crazy employees and our most sensitive customers/investors/partners.

As much as Whole Foods has been able to take advantage of the new interactivity of the web to build their brand and connect with their customer base – they just got the tables turned as their CEO, John Mackey, was caught posting disparaging remarks about a competitor under a pseudonym in a Yahoo financial forum.

Gee, John, when your marketing department suggested you should be more “public” and do a better job of using the web to talk up the selling points of Whole Foods, we didn’t mean for you to invent a new identity, find a forum, and start trashing the company you’re trying to acquire.

The ramifications of John Mackey’s darker side will be that the FTC, which is already trying to block his purchase of competitor Wild Oats, is going to use his “aggressive” comments to show that he’s trying to suppress competition, etc.

I’m all for executives using wikis and forums and social networking to promote the brand. But is it time for marketing to build a “Rules of the Road” or messaging document to guide them on how not to get persecuted for socializing in a connected world? This is obviously a corner case but it certainly makes you wonder what your executives are saying on their MySpace page.


Jon Harmon said...

That Mackey's behavior was irresponsible is without a doubt. Whether it was also criminal is the issue. Mackey deliberately used his anonymous attacks to hurt his competitor, and likely to drive down the value of a stock Whole Foods would try to acquire.

Will the blogosphere's defenders of transparency rush to condemn this unethical behavior by a supposedly "good guy company" with the same fervor that was directed against other larger corporations? Don't you think Wal-Mart's "flogging across America" was pretty tame by comparison?

What will blogs become when they grow up? Join the conversation at

Jon Harmon

jason said...

That thinking only holds water if you feel that Whole Foods buying Wild Oats will reduce competition overall. If you're like me, and you don't, then this is just someone making a very bad mistake that won't affect anything anyway.

Wal-Mart is the most dominant retailer the world has ever known and engages in practices that are inherently harmful to competition. Whole Foods is relatively small, mildly successful, niche grocery chain that makes it's revenues off humus burritos and being eco-friendly. They usually pay prevailing wage in the markets they're in and tend to be in high-payscale areas.

I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for people to confuse Whole Foods and Wal-Mart because John Mackey has too much free time.