Published on: January 23, 2013by Kate McMahon
"Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.
Gotta hand it to the Whole Foods Market social media team. Like a Super Bowl-caliber offensive line, they knew to jump into action the minute leader John Mackey uttered his latest politically divisive comment, likening Obamacare to “fascism.”
In fact, many Facebook followers (myself included) had not yet even heard about Mackey’s interview with National Public Radio (NPR) last week when we received the pro-active news feed which read: “Thanks for taking the time to send us your thoughts! Challenging the way people think is part of John Mackey’s DNA. He’s a catalyst for new ideas and clearly a provocateur.”
My first thought: What did he say now?
Back in 2009, the upscale supermarket chain co-CEO ignited a firestorm of controversy on the internet when he likened hot topic health care reform to a form of socialism. (In other web woes, he was reprimanded in 2008 for posting an anonymous comment that criticized then-rival Wild Oats before Whole Foods purchased the company.)
Mackey was on NPR’s Morning Edition promoting his new book, "Conscious Capitalism," when asked if he still considered the Affordable Care Act socialism. He replied, “Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism.”
Within hours, thousands jumped into action on Facebook, blogs and Twitter, debating Mackey’s statement. Progressives dominated and many demanded (another) boycott of Whole Foods. In one of 15,000-plus comments on a Huffington Post article, one reader posted: “This customer, Sir, is going back to Jewel and Trader Joe's. Bye now.”
Cut to the next day when Mackey backtracked in morning television and print interviews. "I regret using that word now because it's got so much baggage attached to it," he told HuffPost Live on Thursday. "Of course, I was just using the standard dictionary definition."
The Whole Foods Facebook page was quick on the turnaround, posting “We hear your concerns about our co-CEO's recent comments loud and clear. He offers clarification here in his own words” – with a link to Mackey’s blog regretting his “poor word choice.”
Most of his customers were not impressed, evidenced by these responses: “In other words, ‘Oops, I offended 85% of my customer base, so I guess I chose the wrong word’” and “Although I abhor what he said, I defend his first amendment right to say it. And mine to shop elsewhere."
A smattering of support was summed by this post: “We will shop here exclusively. You speak the truth, Mr. Mackey.”
(In the end, while Mackey's words probably were not calculated, they could end up having a positive impact. People who hate Obamacare and might have perceived Whole Foods as being liberal/elitist might now see it as a more friendly place to shop. And people who find Mackey's comments to be offensive probably will end up returning to the store to shop because, after all is said and done, where else are they going to find Whole Food's range of products?)
While I personally disagree with Mackey’s observation and think he could use a word choice coach, I am impressed with the Whole Foods Facebook approach to debate on its site. The original post noting Mackey’s provocative ideas concluded with:
“However, it’s the combined power of all 73,000+ Team Members, the faces you see in your store everyday, that defines who we are. While our discourse may not always be easy, it’s what leads us to bring about the ideas, products and programs that best serve our communities.”
Which was, I think, one way to turn lemons into lemonade ... albeit local, organic, and expensive lemonade.
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- KC's View: