As anticipated, I received quite a few lengthy emails over the weekend from folks taking me to task for my failure to understand that it really, really was the greedy, soulless mega-corporations and their evil genius marketers that deprived our society of nutritious lard, lo these many years ago. What was particularly interesting about them is that they all pretty much used the same set of arguments (even vocabulary), which makes me think there’s some big piece out there somewhere in the MSM that they’re all getting their info from.
Far be it from me to get between these readers and their closely held beliefs. For indeed there does seem to be a certain foodie/cultural critic type out there for whom marketing is the ultimate dark art, an irresistible force before which consumers stand helpless, like hypnotized minions in front of their cloaked and hooded master. Go now! I command you! Blow your paychecks on calorie-laden, corn-based, nutritionally vacant junk food — manipulatively placed at eye level where it’s easy for you to reach! Oh, and buy it at Harris Teeter, where you’ll pay an estimated 16% over standard retail! Ah hahahaha!
Speaking as a long time food, ingredient and restaurant marketer all I can say is I wish it were true. I’d have a much bigger house. Sadly a food product’s success really does depend on humdrum market factors like taste, difference, quality, price, value, shelf life and convenience. A product that doesn’t offer the right mix of all those types of things can never succeed, no matter how much money you pump into marketing or what genius is writing your ad headlines. Which reminds me of an age-old marketing joke that goes something like this: JB, a big company CEO decides to launch a new miracle dog food. He calls in his marketing director.
“Johnson! I want this new dog food in every newspaper in America! Get me the most expensive PR company you can find!”
“Right away, JB.”
“And I want ads on every billboard and TV station in the country. Hire me the best advertising agency on Madison Avenue!”
“Right away, JB.”
“And I want every office worker in America talking dog food around the water cooler — get the Leno and Letterman people on the phone!”
“Sure thing, JB.”
“Oh and find us the hottest celebrity spokesperson out there, tell them money is no object!”
Two months later, sales are flat. Huge inventories of dog food are piling up cross the country and the company is going broke. The enraged CEO calls the marketing director back into his office.
“This is a disaster!! Did you hire that PR firm like I told you?!”
“And what about the ad agency, did they do that Superbowl spot?!”
“Won an award for it, JB.”
“And Letterman and Leno? Did they do the jokes?!”
“Every night for the last two months, JB.”
“And Lady Gaga, she’s talking dog food, dog food, dog food around the clock?!”
“Sure is, JB.”
“Then I don’t understand it! We’ve done everything! We’ve been in newspapers! We’ve been on TV! We’ve shouted about this new dog food from every blasted hilltop!! What the hell is going wrong????!!!!”
The exhausted Johnson drops his armloads of reports and charts, sits down on the desk and sighs.
“It’s the darn dogs, JB. They just won’t eat it.”
The message here of course: that there are good products and there are bad ones, and no amount of glowing media coverage can change that fact. Sure a huge marketing push can get consumers to try a product, but if in the end they don’t prefer it, or can’t find a real, concrete use for it, it’s doomed to fail. That’s as true of cooking fat as it is tires, MP3 players, photovoltaic cells, mattresses and fiberglass insulation.
The truth is that marketing is like a handshake: it can introduce a potential buyer to a product. Once that introduction is made, that product sinks or swims based on its own merit.
Consumers made the choice to switch from lard to Crisco over 100 years ago, for good reasons. The fact that some of us are switching back as circumstances change and new facts come to light shouldn’t come as any great surprise. No one is making us do it, that is unless the Lard Council has some new marketing super-guru I don’t know about. In that case: yes, my master.