I grew up in the Adam Smith world: production is decided on the basis of demand and thus a well oiled machine is created. Look at us today; making a chicken became so easy due to the demand for chicken. But Adam Smith had not reckoned on the effect of this on the world. He died in 1790, before bio-industry or plastic soup.
The counter-movement is gathering steam nicely this decade. In marketing, purpose is the word of the moment. Dove has been campaigning for a realistic beauty ideal for women for many years, Triodos is making banking sustainable and recently Gillette taught shavers about toxic masculinity. Marqt is the embodiment of this spirit in Dutch food retail.
I have a reflex of slight distrust among companies that have an “impact objective”. The paradox is obvious. So I have to keep correcting myself, because pioneers like Marqt drag the big brothers in tow. And yes, the big grocer CEOs are falling over each other with claims about sustainability. Ultimately, the world becomes a better place from that type of competition.
Marqt is a carefully created “market experience”. The store shelves for fresh produce are deep and low, colourful and produce beautiful scenery. You will find the essence of the quasi-rustic pallet here. On the roughly finished wall you can read words of wisdoms indicating the Marqt philosophy, in hand-painted letters. It’s possible to do that with 15 stores.
CEO Joost Leeflang says he would rather let his story be told by people than by cards, signs or packaging. Bread, fish and fresh produce have a modest explanation of the origin, but not a single visual taste-cue. The smell of fresh fish or still hot bread are the best taste cues. Marqt lets the products speak for themselves – a strong statement.
When Marqt speaks a serious message, it uses a gray background with sober lettering. Like a contemporary Rosetta Stone. Urban, minimalist and hip. Communicating around more lighthearted messages, Marqt has developed a cartoon style. My photographer’s heart is shocked for a moment, because that looks damn nice, without photography. Surely that wasn’t the intention!
And indeed, it is very distinctive. A poster on the “Sappenteller” consists of drawings (I’ll skip the word jokes, okay?). Another poster shows Stamptop (still holding off…) with ingredients for stampot. A colourful cartoon card rack invites you – well done for the self improvement – to send a 10 percent discount to someone. The cartoon style is beautiful and stands completely apart from what other supermarkets do.
Then the dark days came. Marqt had saved for a social and abri-campaign and photographed their expected high reaching products. In a bus stop I saw a picture of a “Nedermozzarella Oet Twente” ball torn open by wild zombies against a pale background. It was so shocking I had to find a street bench to sit on.
A little further I cycled past the clumsy and blurry image of the “Best wurst case scenario [sic] with walnut & fenugreek” (bites tongue). A stab in the eyeball. The sustainability story, the impact objectives and fair trade habits are as dead as a warm fair trade beer if you show a picture that doesn’t make a living soul hungry. And even if the image had been good, this product campaign still does nothing for the brand. Without the story behind it, it is nothing more than an expensive product.
Sweet, smart and sympathetic Marqt. Leave the word jokes to Lidl and the beautiful food images to Albert Heijn. Do what you are good at – sell unique products for a unique price to a unique target group. And if you still want a product campaign, then at least make sure the food looks as good as it tastes.