2.2
February 22, 2009

Want to take a photo in Whole Foods? Sorry—it’s not allowed.

Update: You (we) spoke, Whole Foods listened! You’re now allowed to take photos and videos in Whole Foods, thanks to WFM being open to customer feedback and being willing to change with these social media happy times.

A couple years ago we here at elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com, were doing one of our 88 little stories on Whole Foods (about their pioneering embrace of Renewable Energy Choice wind power, I think) when we were informed we couldn’t take any photos. Not even of the outside Whole Foods sign. We grimaced, smirked, winked and agreed, then went ahead and took photos anyway. Still, we couldn’t set up lights or anything, even though we were there at 7 am or something for the official wind-powered opening—and even though we were just trying to do a story that amounted to thousands of dollars of free advertising (the only kind Whole Foods has ever taken out with elephant).

And now I understand a bit more about why, and am glad to hear that, given the New Media revolution (and their Emeril show on Planet Green—that’s filmed in a WFM), Cathy Cochran-Lewis & Co at WFM are happy to reconsider said policy that’s upset its own patrons so. Excerpt:

Unauthorized photographs of the Hollywood set often lead to fistfights, lengthy press releases and even lawsuits. Who knew that a picture of a stack of peppers or fish fillets on ice could generate the same kind of passion?

Well, maybe not quite the same. After all, no one’s running anyone off the road over a picture of well-marbled beef.

But if you want to stir up the blogosphere, just Twitter about Whole Foods Market’s ban on photos and watch the insults and irate tweets fly. (Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to interact by sending and receiving very short text-based messages; a tweet is a post.)

“Photo ban harms only innocents, not competitors” declared ceejayoz in a tweet on Feb. 9.

“Ur photo policy may be more bad PR than it’s worth,” seconded danielriveong only a few minutes later.

This policy has been in place for years and is common among other grocery stores, furniture stores and other retail shops where competitors might use photographs as a way of stealing information about prices, store layout, and product displays. It’s also clear that Whole Foods doesn’t take the ban very seriously — run a Google images search for Whole Foods and it turns up close to 5 million hits, many of which were certainly taken without permission. Every time the ban gets rediscovered, it proves equally baffling to those who have wholeheartedly embraced the Web’s many opportunities for self-expression and comment. Why would any company want to stop people from taking pictures? they collectively ask.

And Whole Foods isn’t totally ignorant of their point: “We recognize that social and viral media has changed the photography landscape and our executive team will be reviewing this policy … in the near future. No definite date is set for this review at this time,” said Cathy Cochran-Lewis, national media relations coordinator for Whole Foods Market, in response to an e-mail about the photo ban.

Since food magazine, television shows and blogs have filled up with so-called “food porn,” and since technological advances have made high-quality cameras relatively cheap and accessible, they’ve become the de rigueur … for the rest, click here.

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