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The dark side of marketing

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 30 September 2016

The unsavory truth is that the 21st century may be marked in history as the advertising age. Marketing has not always been unsavory, and it’s certainly not new. Christopher Columbus (Italian by birth) got Spain to finance his sailing explorations, and even though he missed his target destination, he has a national holiday designation and is mentioned in every history book.

That’s pretty effective marketing. And marketing in the 20th century was memorable through melodies: “My bologna has a first name, it’s ….” You can finish that jingle, can’t you? How about, “Like a good neighbor ….” (thank Barry Manilow for that one; I’d give you the YouTube link to listen to a medley of his jingles, but really – that’s eight minutes of your life you’d never get back).

Marketing seems harmless enough on its face – even clever. But marketing campaigns have taken a darker turn in our current century, implying impropriety where none exists. Not an outright lie, of course – just a hint of deceit, a whisper of misconduct. For this reason, I’m frustrated with “selling with sound” and the power of the word (which is ironic given that the power of the word is where my paycheck comes from).

The International Olympic Committee uses a marketing campaign that apparently convinces host countries they will see tremendous benefits. But does it? Mega billions are spent building new facilities, fabulous facilities – and then what? After two glitzy weeks, what happens to a stadium, for instance, that hosted a badminton court?

What exactly is the long-term plan for a badminton court? What about the Olympic-sized pools? Sure, everybody loves a pool – but an Olympic-sized one? Not so much. It wouldn’t be two minutes before someone asked, “Where’s the water slide?”

What about ag industry marketing campaigns? There are those marketers exterior to the beef and dairy industries that have marvelously effective, but detrimental marketing campaigns. “Humanely treated” is one of the more recent campaigns, and it darkly implies that livestock is not normally humanely treated.

The result is the consumer says, “Ah, I see. I must buy humanely treated products because apparently animals aren’t generally treated humanely, and I won’t support that.” See what they did there – the marketers? They “sold” an idea, and it wasn’t even a correct idea. They created value from thin air (and misinformation). I don’t know whether to be more frustrated at those who created the campaign or those who believe it.

Occasionally our own industry doesn’t help the misinformation, as in the case of a Craigslist ad I saw the other day for alfalfa in a bag. It had two slogans: 1) pasture-in-a-bag (slightly misleading, as most folks would think of grass pastures, not alfalfa, which is what it was selling), and 2) all natural (one of my pet peeves since there is no generally accepted definition of natural and it implies that “other” alfalfa products are not natural).

Its description also listed “whole leaf alfalfa,” as if not all alfalfa is whole leaf. (Not helping here, people.) When we try to market products to our personal gain, we end up stepping on the rest of the industry to get that leg up and are perpetuators of the darker marketing strategies of our time.

And I’ve had enough. I’m tired of marketing that lines its pockets with misinformation. But the fact that they’re so dang good at it is what really irks me.

It’s a marketing game, and the negative marketers are winning. Our industry doesn’t seem to have that win-at-all-costs self-preservation. The dark side is not in our DNA.

Perhaps that’s why we put so much emphasis on industry relationships – and that’s a good thing.

I should write a jingle for that – a hay jingle, a your-beef-and-milk-are-safe jingle. Where is Barry Manilow when I need him?  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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