Help me, help you, help us all
By Jennifer M. Latzke
I love marketers.
No, truly. My sister is in marketing. I have friends in marketing. I admire how they use psychology and sociology and focus group research to turn wants into needs. Some of what they do is truly incredibly brilliant and subtle.
But then, some of what they do makes our job in agriculture infinitely more difficult. And it’s only because they don’t bother to ask us to educate them and ultimately help both our causes.
Case in point: There’s a national pizza chain that has been advertising a new “wheat crust” for their pizzas. This same chain got its start in Kansas, the “Wheat State.” Its original home still stands on the campus of Wichita State University, which is known for its mascot WuShock, a sheaf of wheat with an attitude problem.
The irony will be clear in a moment.
This television ad doesn’t lead off by describing this revolutionary crust as “whole wheat” or “whole grain” but rather, just “wheat crust.” Now, normally I’d just overlook this little phrasing snafu (we all can’t be food scientists, you know). But, and I’m paraphrasing here, the first of the selling points that the ad campaign uses is that in the past “wheat made a lousy crust.”
This from a chain that hails from the Wheat State.
I have one question for our unnamed pizza marketing team. Just what exactly do you think makes up the other pizza crusts on your menu? Ground up unicorn horn? In case you missed that point in your home economics classes, pizza dough flour is made up of wheat.
Something someone from Kansas could have told you.
Boys, I think what you meant to say is that your food scientists and chefs have figured out a recipe that makes a healthier crust option for consumers trying to add more whole grains into their diets. Maybe point out that it’s a slight change, but that it offers a different dining and taste experience for consumers. I don’t know, maybe play up that whole grains are an essential part of a balanced diet?
Pick a message, any message other than wheat used to make a lousy crust because that’s just wrong and misleading to consumers who don’t know any better.
The ad then wraps up with sepia-toned historical footage of a man in overalls using a scythe in a wheat field at the turn of the last century.
Now, maybe I’m too critical of this team’s artistic choices. Maybe they were trying to be cheeky or fun. Maybe it was just a matter of late nights and too much pizza.
But why on earth would someone perpetuate that stereotype?
Hey marketing gurus, you are aware that today’s farmer uses a combine to harvest wheat, a machine that costs more than that Jaguar you have parked in your McMansions, right? This combine of today has more electronics and computer components than the lunar landing module that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. Honestly, using that footage was not a nod to history and it wasn’t being clever. It was the perpetration of outdated stereotypes and frankly, a little offensive to farmers who pride themselves on being efficient and modern and who feed the world.
Look, I’m tickled that a national chain wants to promote their use of wheat in a tasty new way. And, I know I shouldn’t be so critical of artistic choices made by a marketing team I don’t know, and who obviously doesn’t know anything about wheat, wheat farmers or basic food science. I’m sure their hearts were in the right place.
But what they don’t understand is that today’s consumer likely doesn’t know the difference between a wheat crust and a pizza crust. Many of them probably do still think we in rural America wear the stereotypical bib overalls and run around with scythes. And perpetuating these mistaken ideals isn’t helping either of our causes.
What I’m upset about is that they wasted an opportunity to help the wheat farmer educate those consumers. That same wheat farmer who grows the grain that’s taken to the mill that’s turned into flour for their pizza dough.
Farmers don’t have the dollars to reach consumers like this national pizza chain. They rely on industry partners—those businesses that use their raw production to make a product to sell to consumers—to help them reach the public. And now more than ever we need the public to understand just how their food gets to their tables.
I’m not advocating a boycott; instead let’s use this to start a dialogue. The next time I order from this pizza chain, I’m going to go one step further and ask my server if he or she knows the difference in pizza crusts. And, I’m going to take the opportunity to share a little knowledge if they don’t.
I’m going to make it my mission to help them help us.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.