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Should Ag Make Such A Fuss About Negative Media Attention?

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The new anti-animal agriculture ad put out by Chipotle stirred up some controversy. Would agriculture be wise to ignore the drama?

Surely by now, you’ve seen or heard about Chipotle’s newest ad campaign featuring a scarecrow that dramatizes the alleged horrors happening on livestock operations. The ad uses heavy drama and sensationalism to pull at our heartstrings and develop anxiety about the safety of our food. Of course, the purpose of this ad is really to sell more “all-natural” burritos; never mind that the chain recently admitted that it now would allow conventional beef to stuff their taco shells. Chipotle continues to sling mud, and its most recent advertisement is testament to that.

While many might have been hoodwinked by the ad, farmers and ranchers had other things to say about it. It’s amazing to see how quickly we, as an industry, can respond to these issues that require positive messages from the industry to counteract.

A friend who grew up on a ranch in South Dakota, recently asked me if our loud response to the Chipotle ad was in a way counterproductive. I scratched my head at his question because I thought the answer was an obvious, “of course not.” We can’t ignore these negative attacks. But after some reflection, could it be possible that we cause unintended harm by stirring the pot in discussing these ads?

 

Read last week's BEEF Daily discussion on Chipotle here.

 

Allow me to play devil’s advocate here as I explain. Matt, my friend, posted on his Facebook page this simple question, “So some minor social research. My friends in agriculture are making a huge rally against the most recent Chipotle advertisement. Can any of my non-agriculture friends tell me if they have seen this most recent ad and what they think of it? Also, if you would be kind enough to let me know why you eat at Chipotle I would sure appreciate it!”

He had more than a dozen responses to his question, ranging from “haven’t seen it” and “could care less,” to “who cares? Chipotle tastes good!” Other responders indicated they hadn’t seen the ad until they saw a farmer friend of theirs share it on their Facebook wall to open up the discussion. Several also chimed in with concern about antibiotic use in livestock production, and even more posted about the importance of sourcing and consuming as much local food as possible. It appeared the responses were from average consumers who weren’t involved in the livestock industry, and several said they were unaware of the campaign until social media blew up about it.

I think we need to question how and where we respond to these negative attacks on agriculture. Instead of virtually sharing the Chipotle ad to discuss it, perhaps we should make an effort to seek out places where it is already being discussed. We can do this by following Twitter, Instagram or Facebook hashtags, or Google alerts to learn where the talk is already happening.

I hope this provides some food for thought for the next time we see a negative attack. We don’t want to help spread their message. We simply want to be a part of the conversation. And I think there is a distinct difference between the two.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Could our outreach tactics be fanning the effect of these misleading ads? What approach should we take? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 8

Anonymous (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

Don't fall for the false analogy "don't break into jail." Every attack should be taken seriously. It's our livelihood. Take for example LFTB. We didn't respond till it was way too late. Us not responding is like watching a small fire burn and hoping that it rains so mother nature puts it out. Then hoping nothing was inconvenienced. My question is what is our industry putting on the table. Maybe we should hire Chipotles marketing director. Our check off dollar should be making messages to get to consumers. You noticed Chipotles ad was to our millennials that we supposedly are also targeting. But our checkoff dollars are still spent on the same ol' same ol' marketing that we used on our grandparents years ago. We need to stop and notice how others are targeting our consumers and maybe move towards them in similarities but not messages.

@KyFarmersMatter (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

The LFTB snowball wasn't due to "us" not responding fast enough. It was due to the company making the product not responding fast enough with appropriate support to those who purchase the product downstream. Not the same thing as "us".

Anonymous (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

I agree that what happened to a segment of the industry with LFTB could happen if we don't at least respond in some way. Social media is for all of us and we have to learn to use it. We think we are doing so great at feeding the nation good, healthy food and that makes it hard for us to get it right in the fight. And you cannot help but spread the message if you are part of the conversation. Either way we are in it.

on Sep 26, 2013

Amanda,
You put your finger on the problem the beef industry continues to have at least as I see it. We, and I say we because I have been involved in marketing natural and organic beef to those who count, consumers, for some 30 years now, always seem to be a day late and a dollar (or more) short in reaching our target audiences. We are always defensively reacting to the latest campaign like Chipotle with righteous indignation and holier than thou attitude seemingly not understanding how anyone could care or believe these negative missives. Forget that. But, we cannot so we continually preach to the choir, us, about how we should do things and lament why no one understands. Forget that, too. We need to quit squabbling among ourselves and develop sophisticated, positive and compelling messages, delivered on the medium that really counts these days, social media, that will cause consumers (remember them?) who must plunk down their money to buy our product to buy more beef. Should we really care whether these consumers want natural, organic, grass-fed, GMO free or whatever beef? Mack H. Graves, 303-882-5453, latigomack@cs.com

Don Schindler (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

I'm a firm believer that attacking negative ads in the world of social media and digital communications does a lot more harm than good. It's so difficult in today's environment to distinguish who is actually right or wrong and where the truth is when it comes to negative ads. Especially when you are dealing with people's ideology about food. There's a great research report on people's beliefs and how it is possible for people to believe in the wrong information even more when presented with new facts that go against their belief system. You can check it out here. It's called "When Corrections Fail" http://open.salon.com/blog/anthropologist_underground/2011/03/02/when_co...

W.E. (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

Beef producers are an ethnocentric lot. So are city-dwellers. Communication, transparency, doing the right thing for our animals, and paying attention to what beef consumers consider most important and desirable in our product should be top priority. If we can do those things and still make a profit, we will always have demand for good quality, wholesome, nutritious, natural beef. Raising our beef naturally on grass and marketing it directly to people within a hundred miles of our farm has been the best thing that ever happened to our bottom line. Justifying feedlot practices that are really unnecessary in the first place will not improve the profitability of cattle producers who have cows and can raise calves from conception to consumer.

Ray Prock (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

Sometimes when we stop and look at the other side of the coin things gain perspective. Great points Amanda and thanks for sharing something I have long pondered.

North of the Medicine Line (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

Great article on addressing negative ad campaigns! I have wondered the same thing. I wonder if we as an industry wouldn't be better served to ramp up our own positive ads and having more genuine discussions amongst ourselves with regard to addressing our own challenges rather than constantly being on the defensive. No right or wrong in these approaches but we do have to prioritize where the checkoff is spent.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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