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‘Woolworths’ bans white wine and barefoot Afrikaners

The retailer is facing its worst nightmare on Twitter.

 

Woolworths’ new CEO Zyda Rylands is facing a baptism of fire. Not only are pro-Palestinian groups threatening to disrupt Woolworths’ costly sponsored tour of Pharrell Williams next week, the retailer is also under pressure on social media after a riotous parody account exploded on Twitter.

Websites and social media profiles that rip off corporates are nothing new in South Africa, and various Eskom, Standard Bank and Telkom parodies have allowed clients to vent their frustration in the past. However @Woolworst_SA is clearly next level, stomping on all manner of sensibilities and, unlike previous parodies, aggressively interacting with the retailer’s clients on social media, creating havoc and confusion in its wake.

The anonymous creator(s) behind the account – “dedicated to bringing you white privilege, snark & vanity” – offers biting commentary about the perceived Woolworths client demographic. It has “banned” white wine and vanilla oats in the interest of transformation, while imploring black female customers not to carry their bank cards in their bras and Afrikaners to put their shoes back on. The account also responds very quickly to Woolworths clients’ actual complaints on Twitter by offering gleefully offensive answers (often accusing clients of being fat, racist or “whiny cheapskates who would be better served at Pick n Pay”). More often than not, infuriated clients assume the response was from an actual Woolworths representative. Heated (and hilarious) arguments ensue.

Given that @Woolworst_SA is confusing clients by using a virtual copy of the Woolworths logo and other Woolworths visual elements as part of its account, one legal expert in the social media field believes the retailer may have grounds for a trademark infringement suit. The partner at a large legal firm in Sandton, who didn’t want to be named, also thinks the company could file a defamation claim, given the derogatory nature of the account and the insults hurled at its clients.

Craig Rodney, managing director of the social media consultancy Cerebra, agrees that the “malicious trolling” of its clients should convince Woolworths to take action, at least by appealing to Twitter to terminate the parody account before it gains real traction. (The account has already gathered almost 2 000 followers.) Should Twitter not comply, Woolworths should be well within its rights to obtain an interdict against the account, says the legal expert.

So far, the South African courts have taken social media very seriously. Four cases involving defamation on Facebook have been heard (most involved former spouses being slated on social media), and the complainants have triumphed in all of them. In one case, damages of R40 000 were awarded.

However, should Woolworths seek to silence the parody account, the public backlash may be brutal, as illustrated by Pick n Pay’s recent disastrous attempts to censor an anti-Stikeez blogger.

Also, while individuals have been successful in the courts, there is no corporate precedent for social media defamation. And the last high-profile lawsuit against parody products – involving Laugh it Off’s Black Labour t-shirts – did not end well for SAB, which lost in the Constitutional Court after failing to prove economic harm.

Woolworths will similarly struggle to prove that the parody account will have any impact on its sales, says Ron Irwin, a lecturer in media studies and branding researcher at the University of Cape Town. In fact, research shows that humorous parody can often boost a brand.

Even if Woolworths takes successful action against the account, it will find that “15 new accounts will spring up in its place”, says Irwin.

So far, Woolworths has seemingly not taken any action and in a statement noted:

“Freedom of expression is such an important part of our democracy. Social media channels provide platforms for users to share ideas and content and often allow us the opportunity to laugh at ourselves. Parody accounts will spring up from time to time and are a tangible representation of this freedom of speech.

“Customers wanting to contact our significantly more helpful customer service team can do so through @Woolworths_SA.”

Woolworths should not be tempted to interact with the parody account, which can create even more momentum on Twitter, and also should ensure that its employees immediately answer all Twitter service queries (ahead of @Woolworst_SA) and inform clients about the parody account, advises Rodney.

Meanwhile, the Woolworst.co.za domain name has apparently been registered and the parody account’s Twitter following is growing. One fan recently tweeted that the “account kills me dead”. Woolworst responded, “So will food from Checkers.”

 

Twitter followers

Woolworths

276 000

Pick n Pay

146 000

Checkers

83 300

Mr Price

49 200

Shoprite

32 800

Takealot.com

21 500

Edgars Club

15 200

Truworths

12 000

Spree.co.za

9 071

COMMENTS   4

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Rubbish. Nonsense. Like 99.999999% of the crap on social media. Ignore it.

This reply in itself is social media…. Just saying.

Its time for Woolworths to mount SA’s first media defamation court case. Its customer base is being materially undermined by these idiots.

What concerns me is that she, Zyda Rylands, has sold some R79 million rands worth of shares this year. I wonder what her total holdings are?

Their company information on Standard Bank Online still lists Ian Moir as CEO and Rylands as Executive Director. When did she take over?

End of comments.

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