All of a sudden yesterday the Twittersphere was suddenly alive with nostalgic pictures of long-defunct toy ranges or counters awash with PicknMix. The Twitter account @UKWoolworths first teased that an announcement was imminent and then stated it was due to launch trial stores in 2021.
In a news landscape seemingly bereft of any glimmer of good news at the moment, the story soon went viral on social media with Twitter users eager to share the products they were desperate to see back in Woollies and bemoaning its disappearance from our High Street.
Sadly for chocolate mice lovers up and down the country, the Woolworths trademark owner, The Very Group, soon revealed the story to be a hoax. We are yet to discover whether the (now deleted) account owner was a troll just up for a bit of fun on a Tuesday morning or whether this was an investor looking to gauge appeal in the brand before making Very an offer. However, what this story has done is shone a very bright light on the way in which information is consumed and disseminated in today’s fast news landscape.
In an environment awash with information, we are seemingly more likely to engage with and believe information that we wish to be true. Now before we all get too high and mighty in our marketing ivory towers, this isn’t just a case of the uneducated masses relying on wishful thinking. The phenomenon of confirmation bias is alive and kicking in boardrooms, marketing departments and, dare I say it, political chambers across the globe. One only has to look at how diverse range of opinions currently exist on the appropriate reaction to Covid 19 to see that the selective use and interpretation of data is certainly alive and well.
If it is entirely understandable that a few unsuspecting punters, desperate for some good news as 2020 draws to a close, could be duped by an unverified Twitter account, then one of the most frightening aspects of this story is the speed with which the story was amplified by reputable news titles. Desperate to be first to the story, our online news channels were happy to publish the story as ‘news’ without as much effort as a single phone call to the trademark owner to check it veracity.
Never mind that the account was unverified or that the posts contains multiple typos (“Woolsworths”), what mattered most was being the channel which could drive the most engagement. Whilst a story about Eighties retail nostalgia is harmless enough, the same irresponsible behaviour has sadly become common place; from politics to Covid 19, the search for sensationalism and fast news seems to have become the single-minded objective.
Finally, as someone who spends their time trying to understand consumer behaviour, the reactions to the post were a cautionary tale. We have long known that people can be terrible judges of their own behaviour and in most studies we look to apply ‘dampening’ techniques to achieve a more realistic measure of appeal of a concept for example. Don’t get me wrong, I spent many a happy hour in Rayners Lane Woollies, rummaging in the bargain vinyl bin looking for cheap Adam Ant singles or spending my pocket money on flying saucers. However, as for so many, Woolworths became irrelevant to me as a brand; an icon that simply failed to keep pace with changing times.
Scanning through the responses yesterday, you would have been amazed that the store could ever have shuttered its doors. Woolworths was it seems the brand that we were all desperately missing and we’ll all rush down to the store the very second the doors opened. Quite frankly, these comments were utter bollocks – if these people had loved Woolworths that much, they would have carried on shopping there and the business would still be trading. I'm as big an advocate for pre-launch testing as any but relying on a single source of data as evidence something is a good idea (particularly that gleaned from an unrepresentative audience such as Twitter) is a very bad idea.
So you’re next time we’re faced with that killer quote or that impactful chart, particularly if it tells us something we desperately want to hear, perhaps we all need to take a moment and look for other signals within the business before springing into action…