What do a fake moustache, fake tan and a cat with a cloth “mane” on its head all have in common? According to the national organization devoted to promoting beef, they’ll hopefully help boost sales at the meat counter.
The latest marketing to come out of Canada Beef hopes a little humour will sway consumers away from meat alternatives. The One and Only Beef campaign, added to Canada Beef’s existing lineup of ads last year, plays off messaging of plant-based products seen in recent years, many of which pitch themselves as tasting exactly like beef.
Canada Beef’s images, therefore, featured phrases like “Beef is the new beef,” and “Tastes 100% like real beef: The secret is the beef,” while spoof video ads featured close-ups of toupées, kids dressed humorously as adults and a posing model with an overexaggerated fake tan.
“These poked some fun at folks trying to be what they are not,” Canada Beef president Michael Young said.
Why it matters: Plant-based protein has driven tremendous hype in agriculture, although the beef sector is less impressed with how marketing for those products has portrayed its industry.
It’s a response to what many in the beef sector have seen as a threat to their market share, both in the increasingly prevalent messaging around reducing beef consumption, often tied to environmental concerns, as well as the rise of what Young refers to as “impersonators” — those meat alternatives marketed to look and taste like meat.
And the target audience was much the same what plant-based alternatives also hope to target.
The campaign was designed for the “flexers” or “permission seekers,” according to Joyce Parslow, Canada Beef’s executive director of consumer marketing — those consumers who feel compelled to reduce their consumption or who, in the face of the current tone of public discourse, are looking to ease their mind around the meat they currently consume.
According to survey data from Canada Beef, about 48 per cent of respondents identified as either occasional beef eaters, or those who feel they should be or are cutting back on beef. About half of respondents said they already eat beef regularly and don’t intend to change.
“It was quite enlightening to see people’s reactions to the humorous approach that we had,” she said. “It sort of set people at peace a little bit with what they wanted to believe about beef, in a good way, because it wasn’t being super defensive. It was an affirmation campaign.”
It marks the first time the organization has attempted such “spoof” marketing strategies.
The campaign was planned to span television spots, digital television networks, online advertising like YouTube, various social media platforms, and independently contracted social media influencers. Patrons of Goodlife Fitness centres also saw the ads on screens within those facilities.
COVID-19, however, put a damper on some of the comedic marketing plans. About four weeks after the spoof campaign hit the screens in fitness centres across Canada, the country was seeing its first serious lockdowns, and the decision was made to ease up on the comedy, as the tone was not necessarily appropriate to the dire times facing the nation.
“People were really hurting and people were out of work,” Parslow said. “Nobody was in a mood to joke about things.”
The organization therefore leaned more on its ongoing culinary campaign (more standard ads centred on enjoying beef and how to cook with beef) for several weeks.
“We understood that people needed solutions,” she said. “They were cooking at home. They couldn’t just do takeout anymore, and so we needed to help them.”
The campaign reintegrated the spoof ads after things started to “lighten up,” she added.
Reaction to the ads was very much in line with what Canada Beef hoped to see. Viewers did not feel that any of the three video ads offered new information, but generally said what was presented was entertaining, relevant and credible, all factors that Canada Beef believes would have pull when it comes to buyer choices.
The organization estimates the campaign got 56.8 million impressions during 2020.
On those, some of the biggest hits in terms of targeted engagement were online. Only about five per cent of the campaign’s spending went to Google and YouTube ads, for example, even though that line item drummed up about 27 per cent of the campaign’s impressions. Television, in contrast, cost about 31 per cent of the campaign’s spending, and accounted for only 28 per cent of impressions.
While television slots do give some sense of demographics and give a big audience, Parslow said, marketers found that online and social media allowed ads to be much more tailored according to region and specific demographic.
In essence, she said, some of those digital avenues allowed the campaign to get more “granular” with their target audience. TV slots, as well as hired influencers, had to be carefully chosen to align with the campaign and target audience — such as buying a slot on something like the Food Network, where viewers are more likely to be food interested.
Parslow admitted, however, that impression numbers do not necessarily have a cause-and-effect relationship with sales.
“We didn’t play the ad and then ask people what they were going to do,” she said.