Above the Fold: Greggs batters Morgan

by Woody Slater

1st February 2019

As veganism continues to rise at an exponential rate, there is no argument that this trend has now become a mainstream staple in UK cuisine. Increasing amounts of brands are looking to cash in and offer vegan alternatives to their flagship products, in order to secure this expanding market. Many brands have tried and failed in their attempts to entice the UK’s vegan consumers, but no brand has created a stir like Greggs.

The Greggs vegan sausage roll landed in UK stores on 3rd January, capturing the imagination of the media almost immediately with headlines appearing in outlets from the BBC to LADBible. Of course, with media coverage comes word of mouth, and Greggs’ footfall increased as vegans, meat-eaters and the culinary curious alike descended on their local branch to taste the new snack. Many stores struggled to keep up with the demand caused by such major hype—selling out before the nation’s lunch go-getters could get their hands on the product.

This, of course, was simply more fuel for the social media fire. Almost as soon as it was announced, Greggs’ vegan sausage roll had proven divisive—with fans and detractors voicing their opinions online in the hundreds of thousands. Reports of sell outs only heightened this. The product now had a “limited edition” feel; snackers were fortunate to get their hands on a vegan sausage roll.

Greggs successfully managed what many brands can only dream of: the creation of a whirlwind of user generated content (UGC), with very little effort or expenditure. The desire for the public to interact with the brand is no doubt inspired by the brands’ effective social presence, willing to get involved in the conversation when other brands would stay silent. Greggs were happy to gently rib those who insulted their product, while befriending those who championed the vegan sausage roll. Behind the scenes, journalists were being sent mock iPhone packaging containing the new vegan sausage roll. Their overall marketing efforts were praised by PR Week magazine, amongst many others, which called the campaign “a master class in public relations”.

Of course, one crucial promotional element that could not have been predicted (or maybe it could have?) was the campaign contribution from the UK’s contrarian-in-chief, Piers Morgan. The Good Morning Britain host is infamous for his strong views on topical affairs such as gender identity, Brexit and, most importantly for Greggs, veganism. Morgan’s tendency to passionately – and noisily – stand by his views is both admired and loathed, but there’s no doubt that his reputation for controversy has proven a boon for marketers and communications teams in recent years.

With the vegan sausage roll, Greggs seemed to strike a chord with Morgan that he refused to let go. His rants extended from his personal Twitter page to debates on Good Morning Britain where he inadvertently extended Greggs’ audience reach and product buzz. As the man everyone loves to hate, this was always going to form the perfect recipe for some rich UGC.

Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to ‘poke the bear’, Greggs responded to one of Morgan’s aggravating tweets with: “Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you”. Morgan’s determination to continue conflating a brand providing a dietary choice for its customers with the idea of “political correctness” – while clearly demonstrating a lack of understanding of what political correctness actually is – continued to spark further debate. Wanting to hijack the conversation to make it about himself, Morgan created a media hype that undoubtably continued to positively impact product sales—despite it conflicting with his ideology.

It begs the question, could aggravating Piers Morgan now be considered the marketing strategy “du jour” by brands? Gillette certainly sparked a reaction with their latest anti-toxic masculinity advert, which asked world’s men to be “the best a man can be”. We’ll see if any other brands follow suit.

Greggs probably owe Morgan one for the free publicity—although judging by his reaction to trying the roll live on Good Morning Britain, maybe a years’ supply wouldn’t be the place to start. With all-encompassing media coverage, fiery social media debates and the assistance of Piers Morgan, Greggs – already safely one the nation’s favourite brands – has taken its brand to new heights. Unlike the festive bake, it looks like the vegan sausage roll is here to stay on a permanent basis.