FW Opinion: Milk battle must be won on the ground, not in the air

The debate over Oatly’s latest advert, which portrays a teenager shaming his father for drinking milk, reminded me of what campaigners call the air war in a political battle.

This is mass media advertising, designed to flip undecided voters into a particular camp.

See also: Anti-dairy adverts from Oatly called out for false claims

Oatly’s advert is another missile in the air war for the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers who want to make choices that minimise their environmental impact.

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Andrew Meredith
Editor, Farmers Weekly

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Also on our television screens right now is a salvo for the same market from the AHDB’s “We Eat Balanced” campaign.

It reminds shoppers of the natural credentials and nutritional benefits of meat and dairy as part of a balanced diet.

The first advert is from a company backed by private equity firm Blackstone, which has half a trillion dollars of assets under management and has been accused of funding companies that have a damaging effect on the environment in places such as Brazil.

The second is from a grassroots-funded organisation of small businesses that each year produces product to a higher standard of welfare and a far lower environmental cost than the global average.

If you’d asked me to condemn Oatly for taking cash from private equity a week ago, I would probably have demurred.

It’s a potentially useful market for UK arable farmers, and previous research has shown that increased consumption of plant drinks have had no effect on milk sales, so I would have said how they grow is no business of mine.

But rather than taking the honourable sales route of talking up the credentials of its own product, the company has chosen a holier-than-thou route that invites accusations of hypocrisy.

In an article on Oatly’s website, the firm chides customers critical of its decision to partner with Blackstone, saying that the sustainability debate has become sensationalist and “dangerously black and white”.

It’s a shame no one passed the memo to the advertising department that turned out this drivel.

In any political campaign worth its salt, the air war is accompanied by the ground game.

In an election, this is the house-by-house effort to speak to people, win them over and get them to the polls on voting day.

In recent years, some of this debate has moved online to social media platforms.

This week’s furore reopened questions about the need for a UK agriculture social media team to defend the farming industry from a tide of misinformation.

Step forward if you wish, but ask yourself this: Is Twitter and the like really a place where I will find the consumer equivalent of a swing voter, or just a keyboard warrior with as entrenched a viewpoint as I have?

My belief is that the battle for open hearts, minds and wallets is being fought in the air, but won on real ground – in farm shops and on high streets across the land.

So, take heart that while people trade insults and statistics online, the real ground game is being fought daily by a legion of innovative consumer-focused farmers satisfying people with top-quality food.

Showcase your innovative home-made kit

There’s just one week to go before Farmers Weekly’s annual Inventions Competition closes for entries, writes Oliver Mark, machinery editor.

If you want to be in with a chance of bagging one of the nine cash prizes then simply send a few pictures and some basic information about what you’ve built to oliver.mark@markallengroup.com.

It doesn’t matter how big or small your workshop creation is – you’ll still be in with a chance of winning.

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