US: Where’s the beef? A look at beef industry PR
Posted: January 18th, 2011 - 3:06pm
Remember that great commercial produced by Wendy’s back in 1984, when two elderly ladies were commenting on the “big, fluffy bun” and Clara Puller interrupted them to yell, “Where’s the beef?”
Or the James Garner commercial produced by the Beef Industry Council and Beef Board circa 1988 where he is grilling a delicious looking T-Bone steak, and declares “Beef, Real Food for Real People.”
Or remember in 1992 when the Beef Industry Council produced the now infamous commercials that had many images of beef, but always ended: “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.”
My new, good friend from Peru, Sarg Gravert, asked in a comment under my last blog on Jan. 3, “Why do the beef guys get all the negative media?” The question was raised after I pointed out that laboratory confirmed foodborne illnesses from E coli O157:H7 had declined by 41% in the last 10 years. That should be good news, very good news, for the industry.
But the PR examples above preceded the Jack in the Box outbreak that changed how we looked at beef, ground beef in particular, and its safety. I have not seen similarly effective PR attempts since then, just defensive posturing.
It is my belief that industry has not stepped back up to the plate since then in a fashion that will instill confidence in the American public. In fact, I think some PR efforts have failed miserably.
Everyone could love Clara Puller, but when a top industry representative goes toe to toe on Larry King Live with Barbara Kowalcyk, who lost a son to an E coli O157:H7 foodborne illness, and argues statistics with a statistician and grieving Mother, the love for the industry is going to suffer.
When a top beef industry representative asks “Show me the bodies” in discussing deaths from foodborne illnesses, the industry is going to lose.
And when a top official at the US Department of Agriculture, in a public meeting, tells another Mother of a son who died from an E coli O157:H7 foodborne illness that if people would just cook their burgers to 160 degrees beef would be a safe food, the industry is going to gain another enemy.
The statistics are good, but we must admit that over the last five years, with 2009 being an exception, the numbers have been flat. And when the industry has a good year, like 2009 for E coli illnesses, Congresswoman DeLauro says that she has seen the numbers go down before, and she knows they will go back up.
But before we criticize her too much for that view, remember that when the E coli illness numbers were rising in 2005 and 2006, industry representatives said we have seen the numbers go up before, we know they will go back down. Not a confidence booster.
I believe it is time to eat humble pie, admit some people get sick from eating beef, and promise to do everything we can to improve beef safety. And while repeating the positive trends over and over again, do not rest on those laurels. Your accolades will fall on the deaf ears of those who have suffered horrible personal losses if you do not acknowledge the same.
And please, stop the “just cook it" mantra if you want to engage in constructive dialogue and get positive media.