How Aldi’s ‘Free Cuthbert’ campaign won the supermarket caterpillar wars

A single tweet sparked a campaign that would become Aldi’s biggest news story and lead to protests outside Marks & Spencer.

When Marks & Spencer launched legal action against Aldi over a claim it infringed a trademark on its Colin the Caterpillar Cake, Aldi worked quickly to take control of the narrative. Rather than focusing on winning against M&S in the High Court, Aldi wanted to win the court of public opinion.

Sticking to its ‘lovable disrupter’ brand reputation and deciding to fight back with humour and empathy, Aldi and creative agency partner McCann Manchester launched #freecuthbert – a social media campaign that would not only win the support of the public but also become Aldi’s biggest news story to-date, deliver a suite of impressive metrics and win the 2021 Marketing Week Masters award for Social Media.

It started with a tweet harpooning M&S’s famous tagline: ‘This is not just any court case, this is…#freecuthbert’. Within a few hours, Aldi was trending at number one on Twitter and making headlines.

Over the next 24 hours, #freecuthbert turned from a single tweet into an agile, responsive social campaign. While user-generated videos racked up over 30 million views across social, protests were held outside M&S; Cuthbert appeared on TV comedy panel shows; memes, parodies and memorabilia were made; and brands, charities and celebrities added their voices to the conversation.

According to the supermarket’s data, while M&S’s news sentiment and purchase consideration scores declined by 134% and 2.72% respectively, Aldi’s increased by 8.5% and 6.8% respectively. The German discounter also grew its Twitter following by 30%, reached over 35 million people on Facebook and achieved a 15% engagement rate on social. Organic reach equated to over £5m worth of media spend – despite never spending a penny.

Aldi went on to launch a limited edition Cuthbert cake with all profits going to Teenage Cancer Trust, encouraging other supermarkets to join its #CaterpillarsForCancer campaign.