Ann Fitzgerald: It's time to beef up the good news message about our food industry
McDonald's is the world's largest restaurant chain. Founded in America in the 1940s, it currently serves some 69 million customers a day, across more than 37,000 outlets. Over 150,000 customers a day visit Ireland's 92 McDonald's.
Last week, despite what it termed, "difficult trading conditions and low consumer confidence," the fast food chain revealed it increased annual profits by 4.5pc and stated that it expects to open a further 1,200 restaurants in 2019.
Marketing is obviously central to its success.
I have it on good authority that the company has decided that, even though it is working hard in the background at reducing its carbon footprint and that of its suppliers, it is not using the concept of sustainability in their marketing campaigns.
Apparently, this is because they believe that consumers do not understand sustainability and any messages about it just confuses them.
There is certainly little association with sustainability in the TV ad that McDonald's is currently running in Ireland, 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning'. It focuses on feel-good farming images, like busy, early-rising farmers, happy clucky free-range hens and cascading golden straw.
Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from this for the marketing of Irish primary products, especially beef, which is currently under sustained attack on a number of fronts?
Incidentally, while the current demonisation of beef as a foodstuff may feel overwhelming, keep in mind that this is a journey which has already been taken by the likes of butter, salt and sugar. This leads me on to an idea for a TV ad that my colleague Martin Coughlan has come up with.
The ad opens with an attractive, newly married, farming couple in their home on St Valentine's Day. He gives her a bunch of red roses and a box of chocolates; he sits down to the kitchen table where she serves him his favourite meal of a steak and a glass of milk.
We then see them disappearing through what is obviously their bedroom door.
Fast forward through the year, with wholesome images of a herd of dairy cows meandering down a country lane, a suckler cow and her calf with a big milky puss, the couple rambling around an agricultural show, a field of straw, a Christmas tree, then snowdrops, before arriving back at the original setting on what is obviously the following Valentine's Day.
We're back at the same kitchen table. But, this time, it is the woman who sits down as the man serves her a steak and glass of milk, as she hands him something, as yet unrevealed. When the camera draws back, we see a widely smiling couple and what she handed him is a set of twins, one now cradled in the crook of either arm.
The point is we need more imaginative ways of promoting the food we are producing instead of starting from a defensive position. But there is scientific logic there too in the advertising scenario outlined above. Steak is associated with virility, while both steak and milk are sources of iron and calcium, both important nutrients for new mums.
However, we also need to become a lot smarter on how we go about our business. We need to focus on selling the many benefits of food we produce. We need to pursue our own agenda with conviction, not spend all our time dancing to someone else's tune. Our spokespeople need to be articulate and well briefed. If it means paying someone well to tell our story, pay them.
The game has turned professional and we need to turn professional with it.
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