Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Pork's new ad campaign

The Pork Board rolled out its new advertising campaign, with the theme, "Don' be blah." The New York Times quotes some favorable reviews of the successor to the successful campaign with the tagline, "Pork: The Other White Meat." The Times also cites some criticism of the new campaign's use of too many different themes and styles, in an effort to stay contemporary:

However, Phil Lempert, the food editor of the "Today" show on NBC, saw it another way. "It appears they're throwing a lot of disparate ideas against the wall," Mr. Lempert said, "hoping one of them will work."

And Peter Golder, an associate professor of marketing at the Stern School of Business of New York University, said he thought the campaign was "hiding from the name 'pork,' " which "itself suggests some of pork's attributes have negative associations they should work to address."

As you recall, the commodity promotion boards are controversial. The Pork Board is funded by more than $40 million annually in mandatory assessments -- taxes -- on Pork producers, with collection enforced by USDA and the Department of Justice. The Pork and Beef boards have been sued on First Amendment grounds by dissident farmers who object to the advertising messages. According to the Des Moines Register,

The timing of the new ad campaign is complicated by the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling soon on the constitutionality of national commodity checkoffs like the pork and beef checkoffs.
(Question: Is the industry promising payment of any funds that it does not yet have in hand, as a way of making commitments that will have to be honored even if the mandatory assessments are declared unconstitutional?).

The Federal Government has told the Supreme Court that all of the commodity board advertising is the Government's own "government speech," and hence protected from this First Amendment challenge. Because of this rather implausible claim, which is inconsistent with the industry's usual view of the role of the boards, I tend to read new advertising from the commodity promotion boards with an eye toward whether this could really be government speech. A typical finding is that the boards write one thing for consumption by nutritionists and health professionals (see this web page, which adheres closely to the Dietary Guidelines and warns about fad diets). But the boards write another thing altogether when communicating with potential buyers in the food industry (see this web page, which encourages foodservice companies to pander to consumer demand for high-fat low-carbohydrate diets, which are explicitly criticized in the Dietary Guidelines):

Your government's "government speech" seems at times to push high-meat low-carb diets that its best scientific experts criticize.

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