Shoppers are reported to have thrown and broken objects and shouted at each other in the aisles in their outrage at the appearance of cartoons of the presidential candidates, depicted as super-heroes, on the packs.
The brand owner Michel et Augustin created the humourous packs of drinking yoghurts and Petits Sablés biscuits to cash in on the hotly-contested election – which goes into its second round, between the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist favourite Francois Hollande, next Sunday (6 May).
A red version of the packs, which have now been taken off the shelves, featured cartoons of Valérie and Francois Hollande, while a blue version showed Nicolas Sarkozy and his ex-supermodel wife Carla.
Other packs in the range, which the brand dubbed a “collectors’ super-hero limited edition”, depicted the other eight candidates in the first round of the elections alongside tongue-in-cheek short biographies of the candidates.
The drinking yoghurt packs also carried the slogan ‘La vache qui vote’ (‘The Voting Cow’).
Yet the brand was forced to withdraw the products last week after a series of incidents including a shopper throwing a drinking yoghurt against a wall in a supermarket and a delivery driver refusing to transport packs featuring the Sarkozy caricatures.
A statement on the incident on the brand’s website confirmed that the packs have been withdrawn.
It said: “A number of serious scandals have erupted in shops. We’re a little taken aback by these reactions, which are just a bit surreal. The idea was simply to give a bit of life and colour to this dreary campaign – without taking sides.”
It added that the products from the limited editions would be given out for free up until the election at the headquarters of the various candidates.
Commentators over the weekend have been divided as to whether the stunt was a PR failure or a roaring marketing success for the company.
On the company’s Facebook page, one fan, Marine Larcher Roux, wrote: “It’s rubbish. I managed to find one super-hero pack with Carla and Nicolas – I’m going to guard it with my life – but it was the only one. I love this idea… People don’t have a sense of humour – it’s a shame.”
Yet the French weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur questioned whether the incident marked the death of le marketing potache – loosely translated as schoolboy-humour marketing.