Published On: April 23, 2024By

In short

UFCW Local 832 is a union representing over 7,000 retail grocery workers in Manitoba. 

While there might’ve been good intentions when self-checkout was first introduced in the province, currently, grocers are making record profits and self-checkout is one way that they cut labour costs: squeezing hours and potential wages from their employees and getting free labour from their customers. Self-scanners also regularly fail customers, and there’s little to no regulation on the number of items you can ring through these “express” lanes. 

Grocery store workers have gone from getting “hero pay” to getting zero recognition for the extra work and strain caused by frustrated customers at self-checkout. 

Enter: the Self-Reflect Before You Self-Check campaign. The allure of self-scanning is real—but UFCW Local 832 wanted to help customers see beyond the flashy lights to the human toll behind our dependency on these machines. UFCW has heard from the 3,000 cashiers they represent that self-scan puts more work on them, while reducing their hours and the number of cashier resources at the store. UFCW wanted to run a campaign to help protect their access to hours and jobs. 

No one likes being told what to do, so we came up with a tagline that invited people to consider their values, and what checkout line might help them act more in line with those.


While we all have first-hand experience with self-checkout machines at the grocery store—we wanted to ground our campaign in the lived experience of the experts who interact with them every day. 

So, we polled UFCW Local 832’s members and approximately 380 grocery store workers responded to tell us the failings they’d seen with self-checkout machines: that many customers aren’t comfortable or competent with it and how cashiers really are the best (and only) way to efficiently ring up your purchases.

With this in mind, UpHouse took a satirical approach to waking people up to the “working for free” aspect of self-checkout, casting a pandering boss as the self-checkout machine in a video inflicting an impromptu “performance review” on the unwitting customers. 

The delivery style allowed us to overtly point out the ways self-checkout really isn’t working for anyone—highlighting customers’ lack of product knowledge, our failing attempts to check out speedily and the ways we miss out on friendly interactions—as well as who really benefits when we self-scan.

By capturing relatable moments with self-checkouts, we invited people to see themselves in these customers and reconsider their own reasons for choosing self-checkout. The video ends with the final “perk” of using self-checkout from the corporations’ perspectives—how much profits they save, and workers they no longer “need.”

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While spelling out the failings of self-checkout, and who really benefits from it, we wanted to remain as impartial as possible with the campaign. People don’t feel “mediocre” about unions, so we wanted this campaign to bridge the gap—whether you’re for or against unions, we wanted people to see how self-checkout is serving corporations first. This impartial tone was the key ingredient to our campaign, and inspired our mindset-nudging tagline, Self-Reflect Before You Self-Check.

This sentiment and tagline, as well as all the research we’d done, helped inspire a campaign landing page outlining the challenges self-checkouts are creating for customers and workers, the ways paid workers do it better, and what you can do to help stabilize grocery store workers’ workloads and jobs.

The campaign visual identity also took on a satirical vibe, mimicking the look of some of the major grocery chains’ advertisements. With the challenge of not being able to film in an actual grocery store with their cooperation, we built faux shelves and stocked fake products as props.  We leaned into a “pop art” surrealist look to our set, allowing viewers to forgive our mimicry while still situating them firmly in the scene of a grocery store.

Display ads were geared toward driving behaviour change, leaning on the animated call-to-action, Self-Reflect Before You Self-Check, with the lead-up “the choice is yours—where do you want your money going?” or “Convenient for the customer, or a convenient way to save profits? Who is self-checkout working for?”

Our audio ads run on radio and Spotify personified the self-checkout machine giving live feedback to customers, humourously interspersed with “boops” and “beeps” and—“no, I’m not getting what that is.” This prompts people to think: we wouldn’t put up with this performance from a person, so why are we accepting it from a machine?

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The campaign’s goal of raising awareness about the human consequences of using self-checkout machines was achieved by reaching over 135,000 Manitobans online. 

The first phase of the campaign accumulated over 700,000 impressions and 4,685 clicks and included extra focus around celebrations like Hanukkah, Christmas and Lunar New Year, when grocery stores are likely to receive an increase in shoppers. 

Based on insight from the grocery store workers themselves, we honed in on Manitobans aged 18-54 surrounding unionized grocery stores, based on shopping behaviours, sustainable living and philanthropy-mindedness and other related traits on Spotify, Meta, Google, TikTok and YouTube. 

For radio ads, we aimed to capture folks in potential consideration moments, like when they might be en route to a grocery store on their way home from work. Radio ads ran across nine different stations including university, talk, country and top hit programming to reach as wide an audience as possible at those peak drive times. 

Among the campaign materials, we took into consideration the effects of echoic memory, which lasts longer than iconic (visual memory) —lasting two to four seconds versus half a second, through frequent repetition of the campaign slogan over the campaign period. 

We’ve seen high engagement with the compelling ad creatives, seeing 96% of people view the video to at least 50%. 

Furthermore, online audiences actively engaged in discussions on social media and shared the campaign video to their own feeds. 

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