This morning my twitter feed was swamped with comments from agricultural producers about the new advertisements by Woolworths. The conversation was prompted by a blog post from Lynne Strong on how the advertisements made her feel. As you can see from her blog, Lynne has worked hard to present a very different view of agriculture than that presented in the ads. I’m compiling a collection of tweets using storify which will be added here shortly. The main issue was that the images of farmers and rural life in general was not consistent with the ‘professional and caring’ image that the industry want to portray to consumers. Recently a Senate report on “higher education and skills training to support agriculture and agribusiness in Australia” called for a “re-writing of the agricultural narrative” (p 45). It would seem that Woolworths just didn’t get that memo.
This morning’s conversation reminded me of another recent and spectacular “image fail”. Last week, Science, it’s a girl thing, a campaign to attract girls into the sciences exploded online (as recorded by my friend Mike Seyfang using Storify) and led to a number of articles such as this one in The Conversation by Helen Maynard-Casely and this one in The Punch by Tory Shepard. Again, most of the commentary I saw was from women in science who said the images did not represent them and should be used to promote their profession to others.
Although, in both examples, the people complaining about the campaigns are not the target market, the images of who they are and what they do are being used by someone else to sell something. In the “Science, it’s a girl thing” it is a career in science, something which all people in science, not just women, feel very strongly about. My understanding is that this campaign is now being re-thought.
Of course, Woolworths are trying to move product, which may be the only consideration, but they are doing it by appropriating and perpetuating an image of agriculture that many people, me included, have been trying to change for a number of years. Yes, characters are important in any story, but I’m sure there are other characters that could be included to provide that ‘entertainment’ value that’s arguably needed in advertising.
The difference between the two campaigns is that one was put together for a government agency and it seems, has been withdrawn. The other is for a commercial company, who are, perhaps ironically, a sponsor of the Australian Year of the Farmer. I wonder if there was any consultation with agricultural producers, or consumers for that matter, at all?
Both campaigns strike deeply at people’s individual identities and misrepresent who people are and what drives them. For both groups these identities are hard-forged. I think that’s why they have both made people angry.
However, both campaigns have sparked conversations which I hope will grow into postitive changes. Both have caused the communities to articulate the kinds of images that they do want to portray and to talk about the real barriers to ensuring that young people (of both genders) see agriculture and science as good places to be. I know it’s not possible to please everyone with these kinds of campaigns, but I’m optimistic that with each time we get something wrong, we are closer to getting it right.