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HERd management: Why and how to avoid fear-based marketing with dairy

Tara Vander Dussen for Progressive Dairy Published on 07 August 2020
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I want to start this with saying, trust me, I know we all have to market our products. But in this article I want to discuss the tactics we use to promote our products and how they can harm the image and greater good of agriculture.

My question is: When does marketing cross a line? And how can we avoid that?

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I would guess most of us have seen the commercial for an organic milk company (I won’t name names) that somewhat vilifies conventional milk. It starts by showing what is supposed to be a cartoon animation of a conventional dairy. Everything is very dark with stanchions and corrals. Then it moves to an organic dairy where everything is light and bright. They explain how their organic milk is a part of a farmer-owned co-op and that their cows wear “Fitbits” (or activity monitors) while roaming out in the pasture.

My guess is that if you are a conventional dairy farmer, this commercial makes your blood boil a little bit. Organic dairies use stanchions too. Some conventional dairies are also pasture-based. Lots of dairies use activity monitors. And most dairies are a part of farmer-owned co-op, whether they are conventional or not.

It makes us all so mad. But then we often turn around and do the same thing to almond milk. On Facebook a few months ago, there was a post going around about how almond milk was killing bee populations. It was being shared far and wide by every dairy farmer I know. It was easy to jump on board and share that post after all the attacks against cows’ milk and misinformation about the treatment of our cows and our impact on the environment.

But you know who was behind that post about bees and almonds – an activist group. And I can promise you almost anything that what comes from an extremist group hell-bent on destroying animal ag is not a positive for us.

We are all so busy attacking each other that we miss the bigger picture. We are all in this together. And when I say “all,” I mean all of agriculture. Animal ag, row crop farmer, vegetable farmer, berry farmer, rancher, etc. We all have the common goal of providing people with food.

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People already have so much mistrust of agriculture and the food supply chain – organic versus conventional and non-GMO vesus GMO – that we as farmers shouldn’t play into fear-based marketing and scare tactics to sell our products.

Yes, we must market our products. Yes, we are all competing for shelf space and consumer dollars. However, I would like to think we can sell our products by sharing how good they are instead of bashing our competitors.

In my opinion, the organic commercial is a perfect example of marketing that crosses the line. They could have left conventional dairies out of it. They could have just shared what they were doing and the highlights of their programs and products. They didn’t need to mention anyone else.

If you truly believe in the goodness of your organic product, you should be able to share why you feel passionately about organic without ever needing to bring up conventional products.

One more example I would like to share is from when I was at the Forbes AgTech Summit last summer, and a new plant-based business was pitching their product for a grant. They spent the better part of their 30 minutes talking about how “bad” animal ag was. They left little to no time for actually explaining their product. When they finished, I honestly knew next to nothing about their product. And surprise, they didn’t get the grant.

When I got on the same stage the next day to share about dairy, I thought about their presentation. And I thought about how I could have proved them wrong point by point. Instead, I shared about all the positives of dairy – from sustainability to farmer collaboration.

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Guess who Forbes published an article about the next day? Not the plant-based company; instead they published a really positive story about dairy farmers collaborating to be more sustainable.

I think in agriculture, we need to stand more united and stop tearing each other down. If there is one thing we have learned from consumers over the last 10 years or so, it is that they like choices. We all like choices. I have three different flavors of milk in my refrigerator right now. And I know plenty of farmers who love all things dairy and yet they occasionally pour some almond milk in their coffee. Consumers want choices, and it’s OK to give them those options.

Do we have to agree on everything? No. I believe wholeheartedly that almond milk shouldn’t be allowed to use the word “milk.” The definition of milk is clear. And cows’ milk is known for its great protein and vitamin content that is simply not available in almond milk.

Do I want to see every almond farmer I know out of business? Absolutely not. I love almonds. And it takes all of us working together to make our food supply happen.

How many dairy farmers in California feed almond hulls to their cows – lots. How many dairy farmers give manure to other farmers – lots. It takes us all working together to make it happen.

So the next time we are on a board voting on an advertisement or scrolling through Facebook ready to share something, think about whether it is using scare tactics and fear-based marketing or if instead it is highlighting the positives of the product.

We can market our products while building our brand up and not tearing down our competitors, while also helping to build overall consumer trust in farmers and our food.  end mark

Follow Tara at her blog, New Mexico Milkmaid.

Tara Vander Dussen
  • Tara Vander Dussen

  • Environmental Scientist – Glorieta Geoscience
  • Dairy Producer – Clovis, New Mexico
  • Email Tara Vander Dussen

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