In late 2013, The New York Times Magazine cover showed an artist’s rendition of Big Green perched in a barber’s chair, getting a trim, with the headline, “Broccoli’s Image Makeover: What Will Make Us Want It?”
Then inside the magazine, I spent 4,300 words ruminating on a gambit: What might happen if a Madison Avenue advertising agency - the type big food companies have employed for fifty-plus years to hook consumers on bliss-inducing processed foods laden with salt, sugar and fat - applied its persuasive tactics to a harder sell: Broccoli.
End of story. Except it wasn’t. Fifteen months later, there’s something of a riot going on in the produce aisle.
Kudos to the Times for even running the piece. It was totally contrived, and the campaign that Victors & Spoils (clients include Coca-Cola, General Mills and Quiznos), ended up doing for broccoli was just for my article, not for actual broadcast.
The only thing broadcast was our own Times video of the agency geniuses doing their Mad Men and Women thing: eating and farming and cooking and playing with broccoli and then banging-their-heads-on-the-table trying to find that psychological magic that would get people who don’t like broccoli to give it a try. The vid is worth a watch if only for the opening scene.
Then the riot began. First, some bold students at Yale decided to make it real. They put the Broccoli campaign’s first phase -- picking a fight with Kale -- into stores in New Haven, one of the harshest food deserts for low income people, and watched as broccoli sales spiked.
Inspired by their fast work, a broccoli grower -- 2 million 20-pound cases a year of delectably fresh local broccoli grown on the East Coast -- adopted the campaign’s next brilliant concept of the #AlphaVegetable. (That head banging by Victors & Spoils produced the epiphany that broc was a wallflower that could burst forth like superman to assert itself.)
And last month the First Lady of the United States is suddenly announcing that Victors & Spoils would be launching “Brand FNV” (Fruits N Vegetables) into a real live campaign and not just for broccoli, but for all the stuff in the produce aisle that we should be eating more. And their launch video is totally worth watching.
So now the big question is, of course, will it work? Can a Madison Avenue style campaign nudge us into eating more vegetables and fruits? No, not just eating more, doubling our consumption of veg and fruit, which every nutrition expert I know says we need to do to help curb the devastating public health diseases of obesity and diabetes?
Here’s why I think it can:
No More Preaching. End. Finished. The government has tried that to no avail. And the ad people know that preaching about food is the death of sales, even for produce which has a lot to preach about. They know that emotional buttons and cool, not health, will lure those among us who need veg the most.
They’ll Line Up for this Work. “It’s so great to be working on something that won’t kill people,” one of the ad men on the broccoli campaign told me. The best and the brightest who got us to drink soda and eat chips will line up to help produce ads for produce. Lots of karmic debt to cover here. They’ll probably even offer to do their best work for free.
No taxpayer money needed. As cattle and dairy farmers know, the Department of Agriculture offers something called a “check-off,” a self-imposed tax that raises dozens of millions of dollars for beef and dairy marketing each year. (That’s where Got Milk? came from.) An expert has estimated for me creating a modest new check-off for produce farmers would raise $168 million a year for marketing produce!
Some farmers aren’t waiting. Did you notice the Superbowl ad for avocados? Rave reviews, huge social media traffic, and the proud farmers who took this leap seem ready to go again next year, despite the $4.5 million price tag for air time during the game.
But Superbowl Ads Aren’t Necessarily Needed.
Advertising experts say it takes a lot less air time to sell something that is good, as opposed to junk. And TV is no longer the only way to move product. Social Media is now huge, and all you need is one fabulous video or campaign to influence millions. Weren’t you totally floored like I was by the PSAs for #LikeAGirl and @NoMoreOrg?
Spinach Doesn’t Have to Beat Skittles. And it never will, when it comes to lighting the brain’s reward centers that tell us to eat. The goal isn’t eliminating junk food, it’s boosting produce.