Agriculture has suffered from some bad public relations in recent times.
Part of the reason is the lack of a coordinated effort to identify the negative issue and launch a campaign to counter it. About five dozen farm organizations have attempted to do that and identified four young, presentable farm folks to visit with metropolitan media, use social media, and speak to consumer groups about the positives of agriculture.
They should have picked Carrie Mess, a Wisconsin dairy farmer. Using the Twitter name @Dairy
Carrie, she took on a nasty marketing initiative by the Panera Bread Co. and has essentially won a contemporary David versus Goliath battle.
Her personal website, www.dairycarrie.com, begins with the story on July 23, indicating Panera Bread Co. has lost a customer. She had gone there to eat, looked at the menu and noted that one of the chicken selections was for “all natural, antibiotic-free chicken.”
Knowing that all chicken must meet USDA standards for withholding antibiotics prior to processing, she visited the Panera website and was appalled.
Panera had a cartoon chicken, called EZ Chicken, made to look like a medicine capsule, telling readers that it was raised on antibiotics because “It’s just … easier.” The Panera animation indicates “Hard work pays off eventually, but lazy pays off now.”
Carrie’s blog says, “Panera isn’t calling all farmers and ranchers lazy! They are just calling the ones that use antibiotics lazy! I used antibiotics to help a sick calf get better last week, my friends the organic farmers had a cow with pneumonia and they gave that cow antibiotics to make her better. They had to sell her, but she lived. Does that mean we are lazy? Is it lazy to take care of our sick animals?”
Carrie created what is known as “Internet buzz.” The impact was an 8 percent decline in Panera corporate stock value, about $20.
The next thing she knew was that Panera’s Chief Marketing Officer was calling her. She got his attention, and her blog was updated with the conversation.
The Panera executive said it was not a campaign to offend farmers, but Carrie said the problem was that the ad campaign used fear to sell sandwiches. He told her that he does not understand all of the facts behind animal agriculture production.
He told Carrie that Panera would take down the images and references to EZ Chicken, and she said he should also take down the barnlike structure made out of red and white pill capsules.
When Carrie additionally asked for an apology, Panera said it would post something on Facebook that “clarified their viewpoint.”
She replied, “Taking down a few images that infer that farmers are lazy doesn’t fix that. A company that uses fear in their marketing is a company that doesn’t want my business … I don’t care how expensive their chicken is.”
Here is a young lady that is proud of agriculture and the world around her and took issue with a corporate advertising campaign that used the wrong images and the wrong message and has been spanked in a way that stung where it was noticed — in the company’s stock value.
All Panera had to do was ask some of their chicken suppliers how they would perceive the campaign. That would have saved millions of dollars in the corporate bottom line, which was wasted while the stock value declined.
Thumbs up, Dairy Carrie. Thumbs down, Panera.
Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. Keep up with him during the week on his blog, which can be found at www.herald-review.com/blogs/stuellis/