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Delving into dairy advertising

Some of my best friends are dairy farmers. Okay, one is. Then there was that dodgy romp with a milker at her wedding. Country air brings out the worst in me.

Anyhow. My friend, the dairy farmer, rang me on the Monday to champion the multi-million dollar Yeo Valley ad from the UK.

Yeo Valley ad (2011)

Only a couple of days later she would ring in ever-exacerbating fury about Victoria’s new Devondale campaign:

Devondale “Girlfriend” ad (2012)

Devondale “Porch” ad (2012)

Ten-odd years of friendship and we’ve never had any reason to argue. The spruiking of dairy apparently brings out our fightin' spirit.

In one corner we have my friend, the dairy farmer. She’s construing the Yeo Valley campaign as slick, as modern, as giving due honour to contemporary dairy farming. It’s everything she wants in an industry tout.

Everything, apparently, that the Devondale campaign isn’t.

Her claim is that the Devondale campaign mocks dairy farmers. Depicts them as hicks. Presents farming practices as retrograde. Portrays the industry as something to laugh at.

I’m in the other corner. Complete with a furrowed brow. To me, the Yeo Valley ad is what happens when anyone tries to look cool. It screams “geeks” getting makeovers on bad reality TV shows; politicians trying to be funny, cool. It’s awkward, it’s contrived and it’s the polar-opposite of hip.

I’m not going to champion the Devondale ads. In general I quite love the art of advertising, but an ad needs to be pretty bloody special for me to get excited about it. I might find the hillbilly farmer caricatures uninspired, but I certainly don’t see them as offensive.

While she and I are no longer discussing the ads for the sake of our friendship, our differing views nicely encapsulate some of the big challenges of advertising.

My friend, the dairy farmer, wants the dairy farmers to get their due, their dignity, their kudos. Yeo Valley does this apparently, Devondale doesn’t.

A line that she will never forgive me for, but hell, I’m rarely adverse to throwing caution to the wind: who bloody cares about the dairy farmers? I’m asking this, of course, from a marketing perspective, but in all seriousness: why on earth would Devondale spend money to make their farmers feel better about their labours?

When do companies ever put employee morale at the forefront of an external communications strategy?

Even the Yeo Valley ad isn’t really about the farmers, it’s about branding; it’s about achieving cut-through, about constructing a brand differential.

Both campaigns are about peddling cheese, hawking milk, trafficking in yoghurt, but that’s it. To expect them to do anything more is ridiculous.

As a left-leaning, city-dwelling dairy consumer, sure, I might like reassurance that the cows are treated well, but I couldn’t care less about the farmers.

I don’t care if they seem like interesting or fun people or whether they use the newest, shiniest milking machinery or if they wear the latest Driz-A-Bone tracksuits.

So long as their working conditions are decent then I just want my to eat my yoghurt in peace, thank you.

To look to advertising for professional validation is not only delusional, but fails to acknowledge the central objective of advertising: to sell stuff. Succeeding in anything else is just cream.

Join the conversation

34 Comments sorted by

  1. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    The Devondale ads are rather denigrating of male dairy farmers, but in these feminist times, which ads are not denigrating of males.

    I spent some time working beside cattle and dairy farms last Friday. It was near Blue Mt Creek, and we were able to see Brolgas, Magpie Geese, Bustards, Pelican, Wedge Tailed Eagles and numerous smaller birds.

    Blue Mt had granite ridges and deep gorges filled with rainforest. The tree cover on the flats was generally blue gum, poplar gum and blood-wood.

    This is the country those cattle were being raised. Good Australian country, and far better than some type of feminist, polluted, eyesore city, where the wild-life savages out of rubbish bins.

    No wonder the cattle seemed happy.

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    1. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Now Dale, if it was dairy country, those cattle were cows. Specifically, they were cows that didn't have to put up with a load of bulls bothering them all the time: are you sure that isn't an advertisement for feminism?

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      There may have been some forms of feminism. Male steers are desexed.

      But by and large, people and feminists in a city should be pleased there is the countryside to produce their food to keep them alive to do whatever they do in cities.

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    3. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      What about country feminists? Where do they fit in? Or are feminists only present in cities? I find this odd, coming from the country, because I know many women who would describe themselves as feminists. Some of them wear boots because they work hard, not because of the sisterhood.
      Some of em might like to kick the shit out of anti-feminist whiners with those very boots. I'll ask them.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      “Kick the shit”

      Very abusive language for a feminist.

      I have known women in the country, and for the most part, they rarely set foot on grass, while a small minority work outside in the paddocks.

      You could be right, rural areas are becoming more feminist.

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    5. Mat Hardy

      Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      What about the fact that the poor oppressed dairy cows are kept almost perpetually pregnant and lactating by a heteronormative milk-drinking male conspiracy? This wouldn't happen if the livestock industry was run by a sisterhood of ethical vegan women.

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    6. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      And let's start on the rampant bovine transphobia, which no doubt all Victorian school children will soon be inoculated against.

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    7. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Hey Dale, I'm not sure the ads denigrate males. I agree with Lauren that they're kind of tired - some ad exec thinks 'who would depict the classic hick farmer'. If anything, the same exec can only imagine blokes out there in the field.

      Snobbish and classist, for sure, but I don't think anti-male.

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  2. Dennis Alexander

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Lauren, I take your point. It is us, the consumers, who respond or not to ads. If we did actually care about the captive farmers as much as the captive cows, chooks, geese, lambs, whatever, we might be more discerning consumers of advertising. Now that word captive sounds a bit out of place alongside farmers, but there are mortgages, agribusinesses, and tenancy arrangements which all come into play - not to mention single channel marketing deals with supermarkets (duopoly) and, previously in some industries (e.g. eggs, milk, wheat, wool), regulated state monopolies controlling pricing and distribution - and these are, for farmers, the equivalent of wage slavery for some of the rest of us. I know they'll hate the Marxist analysis, but it isn't theirs to deny.

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    1. Lauren Rosewarne

      Senior Lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      I mean, of course *I* care how my friend and her farm are faring, but I couldn’t care less about generic farmers and whether they resemble boy bands or not. I dare say the target audience would feel similarly.

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    2. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      Sorry Lauren, I wasn't casting nasturtiums on you specifically. But there are people liberating chooks and pigs and other animals all the time, but who is liberating farmers? Not the great unwashed 'us' of the mass market, excluding me and the, anyway.

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  3. Tracy Heiss

    logged in via Facebook

    Yes, I agree that advertising is about the end result. Still, your friend has a right to feel peeved. If all city dwellers were portrayed as self centred yuppies in every ad you see, then you might start to get irate, too.

    Digressing, though...personally, I love the portrayal of the dairy farmers as hick caricatures. Anything that keeps city dwellers from considering a move to the superior life style we country people enjoy,suits me just fine ;)

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Tracy Heiss

      Yes I would agree also.

      Keep country life a secret, and perhaps put a fence around the cities. If the cities want to expand, let them go vertical only.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      The portrayal of the male farmers in the ads as dumb and stupid might be completely acceptable in a feminist world.

      For example: One sits there with expressionless, blank eyes holding up some cheese, and their clothes are totally stereotyped.

      Meanwhile an advertising organisation describes the campaign as “Australian dairy brand Devondale has refreshed its brand positioning with a new focus on championing the 2,500 farming families that own the co-operative and the company's ingenuity.”

      http://www.bandt.com.au/news/marketing/devondale-rebrands-with

      I don’t know which is worse, an advertising agency that stereotypes males and spruiks crap, or a feminist agency that stereotypes males and spruiks crap.

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  4. Linus Bowden

    management consultant

    I'd feel more comfortable knowing my dairy was being produced by the cast of "Greenacres" than the cast of "Big Bang Theory".

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Linus Bowden

      That is an interesting issue. Australian dairy farmers are planning to export more to Asian countries.

      http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/farmers-bid-to-end-duopoly-milk-run/story-e6frg6nf-1226467636886

      However, the current ads from Devondale depict Australian dairy farmers as being dumb and stupid, but such feminist portrayal of men may not be suitable at all in more high tech environments in Asian cities.

      If feminism enters more into advertising our exports, such exports could dramatically decline.

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  5. George Greenwood

    Retired

    I prefer to eat my yoghurt in peace.

    Need to take firm hand to that pesky spell checker.

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  6. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    What really offends me, as a (long ago) ex-practitioner of the dark art of writing copy, is that neither tell me anything new or truthful about their product. Cheese. In either a straightforward informative or amusing way.

    The Yeo is for the reasons stated above, appalling, cheesy (sorry) and try-hard. It tells me nothing about the product.

    The Devondale attempts to sell a product benefit but it is an unbelievable product benefit. Sorry, if I like sharp cheese that stuff will be bland. And vice versa. And the pink clad girl friend with the dog was also a little stereotypically offensive.

    The best way to write good advertising is and always was to get close to the product and those who make it and find what is important to selling it in that space.

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    1. Lauren Rosewarne

      Senior Lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Newton

      I think both succeed in the "cut-through" department. The Yeo Valley was hugely popular and lots of people remember the Devondale ads. Whether the cut-through of either actually leads to increased product sales is a completely different question.

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  7. Marian Macdonald

    logged in via Twitter

    Hi Lauren,

    Please do introduce me to your friend, as I am a Devondale farmer. Not the quite literally dumb one, not the domineering dad but the one that doesn't rate a mention - the intelligent female (and, yes Dale, I wear boots to work).

    I also own the company (along with thousands more of the co-op's farmer shareholders) and am not enamoured with this campaign for a swathe of reasons:

    1. It's lame and it's tired. The dumb farmer thing has been done to death. We need something fresh…

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    1. Marian Macdonald

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      Oh, and I meant to say that Dev and Dale barely mentions point 4.

      In respect to your little rant...:
      "As a left-leaning, city-dwelling dairy consumer, sure, I might like reassurance that the cows are treated well, but I couldn’t care less about the farmers."

      ...whether you know it or not, Lauren, cows, dairy farmers and yoghurt eaters all need each other. Thankfully, plenty of consumers have come to the realisation and do want to know that Australian farming is sustainable.

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    2. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      Pull the udder one, Marian.

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      I used to work in a co-op sugar mill, and I think co-ops are definitely superior to working for some faceless multinational company, and also superior to working for some faceless government bureaucracy.

      That is why I am more than disheartened to see the ads for the Devondale co-op depicting dairy farmers in such a feminist manner.

      The Australian sugar industry was one of the most advanced sugar industries in the world, and it appears the Australian dairy industry is also one of the most advanced…

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  8. Annarosa Berman

    logged in via Facebook

    I find both ads offensive. The happy cow on the packet is a far cry from the reality of large-scale dairy farming, in which cows are impregnated annually to ensure milk production, and male calves taken away from their mothers and slaughtered as "waste" products of the diary industry. Nothing happy about that picture.

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    1. Marian Macdonald

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Annarosa Berman

      Annarosa,

      We have actually run bulls with our cows for the last two seasons and found that more of them are in calf than they were when we were using artificial insemination, so it seems that annual pregnancy (for a cow, at least) is not that big a deal.

      On our farm, male calves are sold to a neighbour who raises them until they are strapping 2 year olds (weighing 500kg +) before he takes them to market.

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    2. Norm Stone

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Annarosa Berman

      What do you know about offensive? Your slick and totally inaccurate summing up of modern dairy farming is about as accurate and as relevant as these stupid ads ( and this stupid article). What do you imagine would be the reproductive condition of the cows you love so much in their, or your, Arcadian " natural" condition. The main difference would be that they would start having calves much younger, many more of their calves would die of the various diseases we dairy farmer treat them for and many…

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    3. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      All this heteronormative bulldust is really offensive.

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    4. Annarosa Berman

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Linus Bowden

      Marian,

      I believe that we have disucssed your farming practices in a previous conversation. I am glad that there are farmers like you.

      But the existence of farmers like you does not change what generally happens in the dairy industry. In Australia, the average annual yield per cow has increased from 2,850 litres to 5,000 litres over the past two decades. While this - and larger herds - have resulted in a huge increase in milk production per farm, it has had painful consequences for the individual…

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    5. Marian Macdonald

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Annarosa Berman

      While all accolades are gratefully received, I'm a very typical Australian dairy farmer, Annarosa! Our dairy cows produce more than 5000 litres of milk each year but that's largely because they are better bred for the job and better fed, too - a win/win for cows, farmers and consumers!

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    6. Annarosa Berman

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      If all dairy farmers did what you did, Marian, we would not have 700,000 bobby calves sent to slaughter each year. The fact is, sadly, that we do.

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  9. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Good on you Marian - it's very important for the few farmer co-ops still operating successfully in Aust to achieve excellent management and marketing. It's also important that articulate farmers like yourself join in "The Conversation " and similar discussions, as there's far too much misinformation around the place ,specially in trendy urban groups. I agree that the worst thing about that corny ad is the absence of a capable female farmer - most family farming businesses wouldn't function without her. I'm a retired South Gipps non- dairy farmer - assisted in running our sheep and beef enterprise.

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  10. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Not an adequate response to the anti-dairy farmer crusaders only with "on our farm" anecdotes despite Marian's commendable farming practices. In fact there are regulations and "best practice" guidelines in place as a result of lobbying by RSPCA and animal lib groups. And as farmers know, cows in pain don't produce too well , so there's self interest in animal welfare that the great majority of farmers practice.

    Holier than thou vegan animal lib groups are free to exercise their democratic rights, but until the meat-eating,milk consuming vast majority are converted,animal faming will continue to play an important part in country communities and the national economy.

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