Big Agriculture Marketing

I was watching the Thursday night NFL games last week on Sportnet West and I was struck by something completely unexpected…the high volume of farming/seed commercials.

Now, any good CBC’er knows that every second commercial during a hockey game is for Canadian Tire and every TSN watcher knows their commercial lapdog is typically any OTHER TSN program (they have a bit of a internalized viewpoint).  It’s not surprising that SportNet had a “go-to” commercial…it was just odd that it was a commercial for an agricultural grade chemical for weeds.

I couldn’t believe that there was a large enough market of farmers watching this game that would warrant a company to spend so much on targeting this 3 hour window.  After all, the Canadian population that currently lives on farmers has plummeted from 33% to around 2.5 % in just one generation (with the largest group of 11.5% from Saskatchewan).  Plus, the vast majority of farmer are given extensive catalogues of all the available insecticide, seed variety, and farm implementation equipment each season.  This commercial didn’t serve any direct benefit for farmers.  But it did serve a great value in reaching non-farmers.

Most of these large scale agribusinesses have deep roots in other areas of interest, one area being consumer retail products.  By investing significant cash on a positive, farm friendly spot during a peak sporting event they get their brand out to both farmers and urbanites who are just as concerned about their dandelion free yard as Old McDonald is about Ragweed, Hogweed and Quackgrass.  They want their brand into as many homes hoping that when suburban Joe goes to Home Depot he recalls how their brand also helps every farmer east of Medicine Hat control their Thistle outbreak.

The second area of interest for these multinational agribusinesses is the power of their brand in lobbying.  It is important to realize that in an age of the consolidation of the family farm into massive corporate landholding businesses and multinational meat packing conglomerates that having a positive brand image help them weather the storms of listeriosis outbreaks, BSE culls, and even in their strong lobbying for the disillusion of the Canadian Wheat Board.  According to StatsCan, the number of small farms (83% of farms make less than 250,000) still outnumbers larger farms (over 1,000,000 in receipts) by a significant amount.  However, the only farms that are growing (by a whopping 32.5%) are these large farmers while the smaller ones take a disproportionate decline.  In addition to targeted decline, the same census results reveal that over 46% of farmers have to find supplemental employment in non-agricultural jobs in order to make ends meet for their families.

Agribusiness is moving swiftly to displace the family farm.  Family farms are being replaced.  All the while the Monsanto’s, Cargill’s and other corporations paint a very folksy, down home, American Gothic picture of themselves to keep the rest of us unconcerned about where our food is coming from.

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