Whenever I engage in a discussion like this on the blog I always get a few notes — some more civil than others — saying: Open your eyes, Joe! It really is big, greedy, soulless mega-corporations that do things like take our lard away. That dark art known as marketing is to blame!
Speaking as a longtime 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 factors like quality, price, value, difference, shelf life and convenience. A product that doesn’t offer the right mix of those things can never succeed, no matter how much money you pump into marketing or what Madison Avenue genius is writing your headlines. Which reminds me of an age-old marketing joke that I occasionally tell. It 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. Hire me the best advertising agency in the country!”
“Right away, JB.”
“And I want every office worker in America talking dog food around the water cooler — get the late night talk show 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 a CLIO award for it, JB.”
“And the late night hosts? Did they do the jokes?!”
“Every night for the last two months, JB.”
“And Kim Kardashian, 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 dogs, JB. The darn dogs.”
“Yes? The dogs? What about the dogs?”
“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 media coverage can change that fact. 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.