Great Example of Online PR Done Well

Article for Four Broadgate.

Anyone who works in customer services will have heard the old adage “we don’t have problems, we have opportunities” at least once in their training. They might look no further than this story to see a great example of this positive thinking in action.

British supermarket chain Tesco have been in receipt of praise for their good PR from all round the globe this month, thanks to a poetical exchange between one (not terribly) disgruntled customer, Wes Metcalfe, and someone called Rob from their customer care team. Wes had found a dead worm trapped inside the packaging of a cucumber he had bought from his local store in Dinnington, Sheffield and likened it to a free gift, which he compared with “Aldi’s free spider with bananas offer.” However, he found the Tesco gift unsatisfactory due to the creature’s lack of deadliness, and life, and claimed this had left his children very upset as he had already named their new ‘pet’ William. Wes said he was now planning a funeral for the ex-annelida, but had unfortunately lost his taste for cucumber sandwiches, “a favourite at any wake.” His final remark was to challenge Tesco: “wiggle your way out of this one!?!?”

Rob rose admirably to the challenge and, expertly judging the tone of the complaint, responded with a poem for William to be read at the funeral. The funny rhyme packed a lot of appeal, and the story began to be shared widely.

Wes then followed up with a report on William the Worm’s funeral, and mocked up a touching graveside scene, complete with a lolly-stick cross, a framed photo of the recently departed worm and a ‘Tesco Value’ Sympathy card, replete with the range’s infamous blue-and-white striped pattern.

The exchange continued when Rob, no doubt inspired by the surroundings of the festival he’d just been to, wrote alternative lyrics to Oasis’s “Wonderwall” and suggested it could be played in tribute to William. In response, Rob penned some new words to “Parklife” by Blur, renaming it “Wormlife”, and suggested that together he and Rob had created a new genre of music: wormpop.

As unsettling as it is to find a dead thing in your food that isn’t mentioned on the list of ingredients, it’s not uncommon either, and there are other examples on the supermarket’s Facebook page where the customer care team have responded in the way you might expect: promptly and professionally. No fuss… but then no fun either. However, the lyrical conversation between Rob and Wes was rewarded with more than just a standard moneycard: over 80,000 likes on Facebook and the story spreading across the world thanks to coverage on traditional news sites like the BBC, but also popular newsfeeds like Boredpanda, Mashable and theLadBible. William has fans all over the world and one fan in Germany has even recorded the “Wonderworm” tribute on Facebook.

Since the story broke, Rob and Wes have continued to talk about William the Worm, and a plaque has now appeared on a bench outside the Dinnington store that reads “In Loving Memory of WILLIAM THE WORM, killed by a cucumber 2016.” Rob, inspired by Eminem’s “Stan”, speculated who might have been the sad-looking man who had been seen screwing the plaque onto the bench. “I’ve been asking who it was, but no-one really knew. Come to think about… oh wait… it was you. Man…”

Tesco’s humorous and self-deprecating response to this problem can teach us that it is possible to worm your way into customers’ hearts, which is infinitely preferable to finding worms in cucumbers.

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