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How marketers can learn from the supermarkets “ban the bags” strategy

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I’m sure by now, we’re all pretty tired of the “plastic bag ban” dispute. It seems every second person wants to debate it in and we never seem to get anywhere.

It’s either:

“the ban on plastic bags is a step in the right direction to protect our environment, at least we’re doing something.”


“it’s hardly a move towards being environmentally friendly when plastic bags are still available at the counter and throughout the fruit and veg section. Not to mention, almost every product in store is wrapped in the stuff.”

So, here’s something we can all agree on … the supermarkets communication strategy failed and it’s a lesson all marketers can learn from.

What did they do wrong?

1. Failed to educate the customer

Consumers would have been more accepting if they understood exactly how their small sacrifice would help the environment. A communication strategy to educate the customer should have been implemented twelve months (or more) before the ban. This would have given customers the time to consider the benefits and make their own educated decisions.

2. Failed to show appreciation

Where’re the “thanks”? Humans don’t like change and people don’t like effort and this bag ban incurred both. The supermarkets should have acknowledged the additional effort and cost everyone will now experience. Yes, some supermarkets started proving free bags and rewards points but that was due to backlash, not gratitude.

3. Failed to have a contingency plan

The supermarkets favourite customers are impulse shoppers. There was no plan to support these shoppers or even loyal customers who forget their bags.

4. Adopted a defensive tone

In response to the backlash, Woolworths continues to refer to a poll showing 75% of their customers supported the ban. Instead of hearing the feedback and responding with empathy they are self-justifying. Also, ready-made responses leave a sour taste in anyone’s mouth.