Carrefour Saudi and the Social Conspiracy Theory!



Another failure, another brand, this time on a new level, which is good because it proves that having mere presence on social networks is not enough! It indicates again that some brands still have shallow understanding of social media.

Carrefour Saudi is known to be one of the preferred hypermarkets there, it has a good market share, enjoys a reputation for high quality & low prices. I guess this is not true anymore, at least for their vegetables section!

On the 6th of Ramadan/August, while a Saudi family was shopping from the vegetables section in Carrefour, the man found some rotten “cucumbers” packaged under Carrefour’s brand, and FLIPPED! The guy went all-over the place, complaining & shouting in a loud voice that Carrefour had taken advantage of people’s trust in quality and started showing people the package, all of that happened while another shopper had his mobile camera on documenting the whole scene, while the guy was complaining, a Carrefour’s employee came and aggressively took the package from his hand while screaming at him, then the situation went out of hands and the man lost his temper asking for the package back… and that was it.

The clip was uploaded on YouTube on September 1st; luckily, I have watched the clip the second day with only 320 views when a Saudi blogger and friend posted it on his Facebook profile. I kept an eye on the clip as I thought it was controversial, when I watched the clip again just 3 days later, it had a whopping 350,000 views! Not to mention the tweets that were generated on the subject, exceeding 200 in less than 2 days, carrying the video link.

This is not new, Saudi customers have figured a way out to complain on any bad incident such as Carrefour’s and they know how to connect with each other smoothly, Social media blessed them with massive power to express their frustration and helped them gather as one tribe and raise a united voice that may produce strong results, like what happened to the unfortunate Marai company brand.

In this case, the man got the sympathy of most people who saw the clip (although some people didn’t like his extreme anger) and they started exchanging the info on the social web. The first tweet on the subject held the video link adding the names of top bloggers in Saudi, so that they become aware of the issue, and it fired from there. The original clip reached to half a million views not to mention the tens of other clips uploaded on separate accounts with thousands of viewers, reaching in total to almost a million views in less than a week, when AL- Arabiya channel, number one news channel in Saudi, jumped in to cover the story it only made more people aware of it.

carrefour setback twitter
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Knowing that Carrefour has good presence on social networks, and have successfully engaged people in Saudi online previously, I eagerly waited to see how such a brand would respond/handle the clip, and that’s my main point of writing this story.

To the disappointment and surprise of anyone waiting for the response, Carrefour had used a very weird strategy; Carrefour Saudi management decided that they are being attacked by a well-executed-plan to ruin their crystal-clear reputation!! Below is the “release” that was posted on their Facebook profile only:

carrefour arab press release
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“We would like to assure our customers that the miserable and desperate attempts from some biased people to denigrate Carrefour reputation in the last incident won’t succeed..etc” (from the press release)

Rubbish!!! How could arrogance blind some brands to apologize? Or is it simply ignorance? Whatever it was, what the above release reflects is a brand that didn’t understand what social media is all about. Additionally, the fact that they published the press release on their official Facebook page only where the accident didn’t happen, made the FANS know about it, and didn’t reach to real VIEWERS of the clip.

A simple apology from the CEO or even any executive through the same channel; in a simple video explaining the quality standards and the process they followed (or should have followed) would have been a better route to go. It will make people respect the brand more (especially Carrefour’s repetitive customers), at the same time, inviting the unsatisfied customer to show him/her the procedures taken to ensure quality, would have done wonders for the brand.  But obviously it would hurt some one’s ego instead.

The man in the clip was excessively angry I agree ( he was going nuts, but the man had his own way of expressing his anger AND no one should take advantage of that, especially the brand. When reading his interview in an online Saudi newspaper later, he said this is the second bad quality incident he faces in Carrefour, feeling he’s a regular customer, the guy got his frustration accumulated inside and then exploded).

The clip shows that the camera was on before, correct (although I believe the other shopper started his camera after the man first found the rotten product and made a fuss but was trying to look if there was more rotten cucumber packages) The clip only got circulated after a month is true (so whattt??!!! the guy didn’t have time to upload it. additionally, this only backs the idea that it wasn’t planned before, as he would have uploaded it in Ramadan where traffic on the net is at peak, not in Eid time where few are online).

All that mentioned, would still be irrelevant. The package was found in Carrefour store, packaged and branded by them and the employee came and tried to hide the package. There was a widely-circulated clip on this, hundreds of thousands saw the clip, some took it to the next level and called for a boycott, and Carrefour just failed to act properly.

And what’s more interesting is Carrefour’s claiming it’s a victim of a conspiracy from some people to ruin their reputation!!!  Someone clearly has no idea what is the new world of mouth neither it’s rules.
One part of  the press release stated: “We don’t know how this happened, we have ISO!! ” Oh big deal; I liked one of the comments on the release  “our small grocery store (dekkaneh) in the neighborhood has ISO, who cares” and this exact one was DELETED!! I wanted to take a snap shot from this exact comment to post it here, but couldn’t find it! Which only gave the subject a new dimension: Carrefour Saudi is deleting the simple comments that criticize them on their Facebook page! Just Great. So Oblivious.

It’s funny, when brands get in an online PR crisis, only then you get a feel of their understanding of social media going bad on them and the genuine feelings towards their customers.

Carrefour is a global chain, a standard international way of dealing with PR crises should be followed, and a 1 million view on such clip is a great deal! In the same time the brand is no better than other big brands CEO’s who apologized for their customers on YouTube (Dominos pizza, Toyota, KFC, American airlines and many more) on matters of quality and bad service, arrogance won’t get you anywhere with people who actually made your brand a success in the first place.

Is it that brands in the region still in a web-coma in contrary to the rest of the world? Is it that brands are “too good” to make an honest apology towards their own customers in such crises in our region? Do they have to wait for more failures examples? I’ll leave answers to you.

Anyhow, Carrefour ran away, in full speed, from the incident and I don’t know if it will succeed (if you read the comments/see the likes on the clip and on the release you will know it didn’t. not to mention the new “Carrefour boycott campaign” growing Facebook page).

carrefour Facebook page complaints
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Personally, i won’t trust the quality of the vegetables section there.


Amer is the founder of Hashtag, a new social media agency that specializes in humanizing brands on the web in the Middle East. 


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An ex Adman who transformed successfully to a Socialnomic, Avid watcher of Brands Cool social efforts on the web in the Middle East. Worked in different international agencies on various big brands like STC, Ford, Danone and Microsoft. Currently working on building the best local Social Media Agency in the Middle East. Hashtag Social Media Agency, Besides being social, he loves reading, traveling and diving. Would love to hear from you:


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