The Oreo brand tweeted twice on August 10. The first tweet hyped its Mega Stuf cookies; the second one lobbied Apple for a set of Oreo-specific emoji.
At the same time, about 1,000 workers for Nabisco (which makes Oreos and is owned by Mondelēz International) went on strike in Portland, Oregon. This was followed in subsequent weeks by workers striking in Chicago; Aurora, Colorado; Richmond, Virginia; and Norcross, Georgia. At issue in the ongoing strike are a set of proposed changes in shift lengths and overtime rules, which union members claim could result in wage losses of up to $40,000 per year.
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In today’s 24-hour media environment, the dissonance is stark between Oreo’s fun, playful online persona and the harsh conditions that these workers are pushing back against. This is evidenced by responses to Oreo’s tweets, which were peppered with references to the strike. It’s a tightrope that companies have to walk, as everything from supply chains to political donations has the potential to blow up online and reflect negatively on the brand.
Nabisco workers striking in Portland, Oregon [Photo: BCTGM]
I spoke to one senior marketing executive who, having worked in similar companies, acknowledged that this is a no-win situation for a brand like Oreo and its marketers. Because even though externally everything the parent company does reflects on the brand, inside the company these issues are completely out of marketers’ hands. If a strike like this continued, the executive said, “I’d probably be feeling, ‘Oh my god, I’m fucked.’” This is further compounded by the fact that big names like Danny DeVito and Bernie Sanders have voiced support for the Mondelēz workers, drawing attention and news coverage far beyond the company’s factories.
Mondelēz spokesperson Laurie Guzzinati told Fast Company that the ongoing negotiations are a business issue, and the company is maintaining its brands’ voice and tone. “For the brands, like Oreo and Ritz, their marketing and engagement with the consumer is grounded in their brand purpose and what they represent to their consumers, and the brands are continuing to do so.”