“Never interrupt your opponent when he’s making a mistake,” was one of Napoleon’s more noteworthy quotes.
It’s one that we, as an industry – oft beleaguered by anti-farming messages from a lobby seemingly more high-profile and media savvy than ourselves – should take heed of occasionally.
Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority gave the all-clear to the admittedly galling “Humane Milk is a Myth” media campaign by Go Vegan World, a vegan activist group founded in Ireland by a psychology graduate inspired by a hen named Matilda.
Heavy on anthropomorphism and light on objectivity, the campaign focused initially on relatively low-cost billboards on university campuses and advertising space in taxis and bus stops, apparently aimed at impressionable younger “consumers” looking for a cause to be angry about.
Despite extremely emotive language that painted the dairy industry in a particularly dim light, the campaign’s message had been carefully crafted to be ultimately defensible on the basis that, however misleading and exaggerated its claims might be, it wasn’t actually telling any fundamental lies.
Rather than let this nonsense run its natural course, the NFU took the bait hook, line and sinker, going straight to the ASA to demand that it be withdrawn… and lost.
Oxygen of publicity
It thus provided the campaign with the invaluable oxygen of free publicity it so badly needed, which it then used to telling effect, with a much more intensive and higher profile series of full-page, full-colour adverts in national broadsheet newspapers.
The British media love a David vs Goliath story and the NFU duly handed them and the anti-dairy lobby the perfect ready-made pantomime villain with its clumsy knee-jerk and disproportionate response to their subtle goading.
I wonder where the resources required to fund this second wave of propaganda came from – but, given the seemingly low-profile and limited means of the organisation fronting the campaign, whoever bankrolled it may have been less prepared to do so without the (wholly undeserved) moral validity provided by the ASA ruling.
This is sadly yet another example of how far behind the curve we in the dairy sector are when it comes to promoting both our product and our practices to the consumer.
Rather than focusing on the positive and marshalling significant resource behind the growing body of independent scientific evidence that supports the real value of dairy in a balanced diet, we continue to get drawn into damaging rearguard actions against a far more agile and wily adversary.
This is guerrilla warfare that we will never win if we continue to fight on their terms.
The recent Proud of Dairy campaign launched by the NFU to promote dairy farming on social media, while commendable and indicative of the huge latent potential that exists within the sector, is unfortunately too little too late.
It begs the question: How effective is this kind of campaign at reaching the desired target audience or is it merely a low cost way of making us feel better about ourselves?
With milk prices back at sensible levels, surely now is the time to invest heavily in high-profile, professional and intelligently targeted marketing that promotes the real value of what we produce rather than waiting for the fight to come to us and wasting our money promoting someone else’s agenda.