Anti-Marketing | Trader Joe’s

450x470xTrader-Joes-Logo-981x1024.png.pagespeed.ic.SFYMdIO0-Y.png“They don’t do things ‘by the big brand book’ and ironically that is their secret to becoming big brands.” -The Millennial appeal of Google, Under Armour & Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s marches to the beat of a different drum. I agree that it seems odd that it doesn’t play the advertising and PR game, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting the retailer. Based on a recent survey of 7,200 customers, Trader Joe’s was ranked as the #1 choice for grocery stores (Mahoney, 2015). A lack of presence in print, broadcast and digital media may be more intentional than an oversight. When Joe Coulombe opened his first Trader Joe’s in 1967, he first decided who his target audience would be and built his store and marketing campaign based on that customer. Pat St. John, VP of Marketing for Trader Joe’s (1988) recalls that Coulombe “decided to focus on well-educated customers. The higher the level of education, the more likely customers are to be particular about the choices they make. And they’re less likely to be swayed by network TV ads or media blitzes” (as cited in “Understanding Trader Joe’s, n.d.). Perhaps Coulombe felt that funds spent promoting his store would detract from his primary goal of selling high quality foods for an affordable price. Promotion is not free. Hagen (2012) writes,

Trader Joe’s doesn’t do print or TV ads. Trader Joe’s doesn’t use an advertising agency. Because they don’t have to. Spending money on advertising means they’d have to jack up prices, so they don’t. Occasionally, you’ll hear a radio ad, but those announcements are read by a company employee, not a voice-over actor. All the artwork in the stores is made in-store, by hand, by a team of artists. Yep, artists. Not computers. Each shelf tag, chalkboard, and mural was created with markers, paint, and chalk. What’s not to love about that? Marketing Takeaway: Don’t spend money promoting your product if your product will suffer because of it.

Trader Joe’s “non-advertising” seems to fit its brand. Small stores, two buck chuck, fishing line on the walls, tropical t-shirts, community donations handled at the local level. In fact, it seems the company has embraced the anti-marketing movement. In an article published by the ICEF Monitor (2015), the author writes that,

“At its core, anti-marketing is built around a couple of simple ideas:  Consumers are smart and empowered. They want honest and useful information, and they want you to respect their intelligence. Everybody is selling something; be different. Be innovative and creative in order to draw the market to you.”

While this works for Trader Joe’s, I don’t think that just any company can pull it off. It has a sort of cult following because of the personality is has developed. It would be interesting to see data on a Trader Joe’s test market where the company did reach out with public relations and other promotional efforts (in addition to their popular circular). I would be interested in what this kind of quantitative data would reveal.

Hagen, D. (2012, May 8). A study on brand loyalty: What you can learn from Trader Joe’s. Retrieved from

Mahoney, S. (2015, May 12). Trader Joe’s, Publix, Aldi top grocery brands. Media Post. Retrieved from

The Millennial appeal of Google, Under Armour & Trader Joe’s. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Turning the tables on conventional thinking with anti-marketing. (2015, June 12). ICEF Monitor. Retrieved from

Understanding Trader Joe’s. (n.d.) Retrieved from

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