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Ontario Grain Farmer Magazine is the flagship publication of Grain Farmers of Ontario and a source of information for our province’s grain farmers. 

Marketing campaigns


Barry Senft, CEO, Grain Farmers of Ontario

FARMERS ARE A passionate group – we may not always beat our chest or shout from the rooftops about the work we do, but we take great pride in the farms that we operate. And there are times (it seems rather often these days) when we come together to defend ourselves. It seems what really strikes a nerve is when one of our practices, or something we produce, gets negatively portrayed in an advertising campaign.

The social media war that erupted after Bud Light ran two Super Bowl ads denouncing the use of corn syrup in their beer is just the latest example of this. American corn farmers saw it as a personal attack and posted videos of themselves pouring out their beer and pledging allegiance to another brand.

And this isn’t the only example.

In 2010, farmers poured out bottles of Australian Yellow Tail wine because they launched a campaign involving a $100,000 donation to the U.S. Humane Society. At the time, the society was vocal about what they saw as the unfair treatment of animals on “factory farms”

When A&W promoted it’s use of beef with no added hormones or steroids, farmers boycotted the chain. Farmers didn’t take well to the notion that they didn’t take care of their animals properly. It also didn’t help A&W’s case either that the chain sourced its beef from as far away as Australia.

We can point to our practices and to the data to show everyone how well we do what we do. We know there is nothing wrong with how we farm or what we produce, but when it comes to what the average consumer eats and drinks – it’s not the science that’s the problem, in a significant way it’s the marketing.

And as the above Bud Light, Yellow Tail, and A&W examples show, it’s the retailers themselves and their own marketing efforts that can cast the biggest shadow of doubt and mistrust over agriculture.

I know we rely on the retailers to sell our commodities and products, but they sometimes work against the way we make our living. Non-GMO, gluten-free, all natural, anti-biotic free — consumers are faced with a multitude of labels which seem to indicate the product they are looking at on the shelf or at the restaurant is somehow better or healthier than another one. Or worse, that another product is somehow more dangerous.

Consumers are confused, and retailers are only adding to their confusion. They are all too happy to charge premium prices for products that follow the latest trend. Retailers have a business to run, I think everyone understands that; but they shouldn’t be misleading people for the sake of profit and market share.

What is the true impact of these negative marketing tactics? Did farmers have any long-lasting affect on how these companies operate or promote their product?

The farmers’ protest convinced Yellow Tail to specifically earmark their campaign funds to assist the rescue of animals after natural disasters. But no long-term damage was caused to the winemaker’s brand.

We’ve yet to see if Bud Light suffers a drop in sales. The company is still running their ads though, and they believe their message will resonate with average consumers.

A&W continues to promote and sell their “better” beef.

Are there times when retailers have got it “right”? Well, there’s certainly a group that watched the reaction of farmers and agriculture and found a way to profit from that as well.

Take McDonald’s launching their ‘Not Without Canadian Farmers’ campaign to take advantage of the A&W boycott. Look at beer competitor MillerCoors and its own campaigns to win over farmers, including the major presence of Coors at the Commodity Classic. They’ve issued public statements in support of corn farmers and explained how there is nothing wrong with the ingredients they use in their beers.

Truthfully, those campaigns tend to be more supportive or positive and less about fear. Think about the campaigns that have worked best on you as a consumer — which ones did you tell other people about?

The bottom line here is that we need to support these positive campaigns and we need to remind retailers that we vote with our wallets… and we have a lot of wallets and loud voices. •


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