The grocery store Aldi is being completely trashed by UK Instagram users after it paid an influencer to participate in a "challenge" where she fed her family for a week on £25 (about $33) of groceries.
What added to the ire was the hashtag they chose: #AldiPoorestDayChallenge.
Aldi's UK press team announced the campaign last week on Jan. 24, which they said has been called the "poorest day of the year." This is because, they said in a press release, people tend to spend too much money over the holidays and must tighten their budgets in January.
So Aldi's UK division came up with a campaign to demonstrate "the spirit of ‘in-it-togetherness’, and to showcase just how easily you can feed your family healthy, balanced and affordable meals right through from the ‘poorest day of the year’ to pay day."
They recruited fashion influencer Natalie Lee, who blogs at Style Me Sunday, to join the "challenge" as part of a campaign on Instagram that Lee noted was an ad. Lee tried to shop at Aldi for her family of four for a week while spending less than £25.
Lee documented her progress on her Instagram stories, writing in a post:
"Aldi has challenged me to feed my family of 4 for a whole week - breakfast, lunch and dinner for £25 to see if it’s possible. January is probably the hardest month of the year financially for most people, so I’m interested to see if I can feed my family with a well-balanced and nutritious weeks food shop."
The challenge was also covered in the UK tabloids, who called her a "savvy mother."
Some of her followers cheered her on. But soon, many people began to write that they found the "challenge" offensive, including blogger Gylisa Jayne. She commented on the post, calling it "fake poor for clicks bullshit."
"I have had to do a weeks food shop with five pounds in change, let me tell you, £25 for the week would have been an absolute LUXURY," she wrote.
Jayne told BuzzFeed News she decided to comment because she wanted to help put a voice of reason that often gets lost in influencers' "echo chamber comments."
"I wanted to raise the very valid points of how offensive, and poor taste it is, not to mention totally missing the mark," she said.
Soon, other people began to call the company out on Instagram, using the hashtag #AldiPoorestDayChallenge.
Claudine Mcarthy, known as @TeenragersAndDivas on Instagram, told BuzzFeed News she felt that Aldi, a low-cost grocery chain," "had no idea of how that hashtag would affect their main demographic of customers."
"They live 'poor' on a daily basis, that this wasn’t a trend for them...living on £25 is a reality to 8.4 million working adults in this country," she said. "It was completely patronizing and belittling. It was so offensive to use a middle-class influencer with no idea of day-to-day life, but she could just have fun spending her £25 to make herself look good and relatable."
Another critic of the ad, Grace aka @kisscub, agreed.
"Aldi have basically just offended their entire customer base. Their demographic isn’t middle-class professionals is it; it’s the poor," she told BuzzFeed News.
Grace said she felt the ad and hashtag were in "such poor taste."
"It suggests poor people aren’t trying hard enough to budget — they can get all the groceries they will ever need from Aldi for £25, so what are they moaning for? It perpetuates the myth that poor people aren’t trying hard enough," she said.
Others shared their own receipts from how they feed their families, like Lesley aka @TheWorldWithAlfie.
Lesley wrote she felt the campaign was "tasteless, crass and insulting."
"As someone who grew up below the breadline, someone who saw poverty first hand, the hashtag 'my poorest week' was a mockery of how I grew up," she told BuzzFeed News.
She added: "There are so many people (my followers included) who could have not only used that £25 for food, but also the fee that was paid for the post because their 'poorest week' is every week."
In response to the criticism, a spokesperson for Aldi stood by the ad.
"At Aldi, we are hugely proud of the work that we have done to democratize access to healthy and affordable food," they told BuzzFeed News. "Our campaign was intended to offer practical advice about how people can make their money go further.”
Lee didn't immediately return a request for comment from BuzzFeed News. However, Lee has been responding to criticisms on her Instagram post, which she said she has left up to continue the discussion about the ad.
"It really was thoughtless and a big mistake, lessons have been learned," she wrote in response to one commenter.
Lesley said she believes the influencer ad industry needs to change, saying "influencers have a standard to uphold and realistically they need to think carefully about what they accept money for."
"In the social media world, influencers do just that: influence. They really need to be careful with what they agree to, especially when it’s at the expense of others," she said.
Grace agreed, saying, "I think everyone is growing increasingly tired of platforms that could be used for huge change and the improvement of lives, being used to emulate poverty or emulate perfection to sell us stuff."
Aldi used #AldiPoorestDayChallenge to tag its posts. A previous version of the post misstated the hashtag.