Maine supermarket takes flak for Y2k campaign : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Maine supermarket takes flak for Y2K campaign

By David Sharp, Associated Press, 11/15/99 02:16

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) Whether you're hunkering down for the collapse of civilization or preparing for the party of the century, Shop 'n Save has a message for you: the shopping starts here.

Printed on the supermarkets' shopping bags is a list of items to stock up on, like baby formula, bottled propane, canned goods, flashlights. Some items bear tags, ''Be Prepared: Stock Up Item.''

More upbeat? Shop 'n Save has you covered as well, suggesting beverages, party platters and snacks.

The ''Be Prepared'' campaign is so subtle it has gone unnoticed by many customers at the 153 supermarkets from Maine to the Carolinas. But some of those who have noticed have seen red.

''When I saw it, I rolled my eyes, shrugged and shook my head,'' said Jessica Leary, a Shop 'n Save customer. ''It's always good to be prepared, but everyone is going a tad overboard.''

Tim McGonagle of Portland also was turned off.

''I was kind of disgusted in a way because they're using a scare tactic to boost their sales,'' he said last week.

The complaints, which stunned Shop 'n Save, demonstrate why most companies seem reluctant to use Y2K in their marketing and advertising.

There is a downside to hype, said David Wachspress, head of the school of management at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. And besides, people's worries about Y2K problems seem to have abated for now.

Concerns about Y2K revolve around whether older computer programs will misread Jan. 1, 2000, as Jan. 1, 1900, causing computers to crash.

Some fear power outages, contaminated water or banking problems, as well as a temporary shortages of goods.

So far, government officials have played down potential problems, and marketing experts seem inclined to agree.

Marian Salzman, director of Young & Rubicam's Brand Futures Group, said companies that heighten people's Y2K concerns risk being accused of bad taste and could end up looking plain silly.

''Big brands need to be very sensitive. If bad things happen it will be horrific. If good things happen it won't get coverage. The net is anyone out there talking up Y2K is extremely vulnerable,'' she said.

Shop 'n Save's checklist and ''Be Prepared'' tags were never intended to cause alarm, said Caren Epstein, spokeswoman for Scarborough-based Hannaford Bros., Shop 'n Save's parent company.

She said the campaign was a response to requests from anxious customers who vividly remember a massive ice storm in January 1998. Many Mainers lost their electricity for a week.

Hannaford plans to have plenty of food on the shelves and doesn't foresee any year-end problems. The list was for those who might want to stock up despite assurances, either for potential Y2K problems or for winter storms, Epstein said.

''There is no intent to suggest these items will not be available. They will be available,'' she said. ''Hannaford is Y2K-prepared and you shouldn't have any problem getting all of the items you need.''

Some other companies have gone out of their way to distance themselves from concerns about Y2K. Del Monte, the nation's largest producer of canned vegetables and fruits, decided more than a year ago not to take advantage of Y2K to boost sales.

''It's completely irresponsible to throw fuel on the fire,'' said William Spain, senior vice president for corporate affairs in San Francisco. ''There's no need for that kind of bunker mentality.''

Likewise, Campbell's soup isn't taking advantage, said John Faulkner, a spokesman at company headquarters in Camden, N.J.

''We really didn't want to be connected with creating some sort of alarmist situation,'' he said.

Some companies are seeing sales growth without having to mention Y2K.

PUR, which makes portable water purifiers for campers, has seen a 60 percent jump in sales this year that is attributable directly to the desire of people to be prepared, said Alan Lizee, director of sales and marketing in Minneapolis.

The company ran magazine advertisements earlier this year showing a tornado and urging people to prepare for emergencies. But there was no mention of Y2K, Lizee said.

''Y2K is certainly a catalyst for what's going on. But we're not using Y2K in our messages or our advertising,'' he said.

Home Depot reports that sales of generators are up, particularly in the Northeast, though there have been no promotions. ''We think it would be a disservice to the public to frighten people into buying something they wouldn't otherwise need,'' said spokesman John Simley in Edison, N.J.

Meanwhile, Hannaford isn't the only supermarket with a ''stock up'' list. Giant Food Inc., a Maryland-based chain with 178 stores in the Mid-Atlantic states, provided customers with a similar list of American Red Cross-recommended items for Y2K preparedness.

Barry Scher, Giant Food's vice president for public affairs, said he has heard of no criticism.

Patricia Werhane, a business ethics professor at the University of Virginia's graduate business school, said she is not alarmed by such advertising.

There are worse things going on, she said. And besides, customers are smart enough to know what they need.

''These are adults who shop and they can figure this thing out,'' Werhane said. ''They're not saying you're going to die if you don't have 45 boxes of diapers.''

Hannaford's ''Be Prepared'' campaign is in the process of being replaced by a new campaign. If Hannaford had to do it over again, the supermarket would have created the list but lowered its profile, Epstein said.

''The intent was to provide a customer service,'' she said. ''Obviously it's not our idea to upset customers.''

-- Homer Beanfang (, November 15, 1999


Let them eat cake!


-- Y2Kook (, November 15, 1999.

I'll have to go back and count, but I'm pretty sure that I have at least 40 boxes of diapers for my 16 month old. I've got the wipes to match (and then some).

AND I have enough plastic bags to put the dirty ones in.

We won't starve either, but I just couldn't see myself going from all plastic to all cloth diapers overnight.

-- nothere nothere (, November 15, 1999.

This is so great! Thanks! Just this morning I've been wondering why the farmers/processers/grocers are sitting around letting the gubmint say DON"T BUY FOOD! All year long there should have been stock up sales with recipes and FOR ONCE THE LITTLE FARMER GUY WOULD FEEL LIKE WE NEED HIM AGAIN!

Sign me Farmer's Wife

-- Becky (, November 15, 1999.

Is this like the McCarthy era all over? Black Balled because your worried about Y2K. No I am sorry, it is against the law to even suggest the possiblity that Y2K could be anything other than a nusance. Shame, shame on your for spreading fear, uncertainty and unease. The PTB are taking Prudent Measures, the Big Corps are taking Prudent Measures, but shame on thy individuals for thinking such fallacious thoughts.

Homer - Nice to see you back, hope your weekend was wonderful.

-- shameonme (, November 15, 1999.

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