Does ‘getting it wrong’ bring us closer to getting it right?

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The difference between the two campaigns is that one was put together for a government agency and it seems, has been withdrawn.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.

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4 thoughts on “Does ‘getting it wrong’ bring us closer to getting it right?

  1. Great blog Heather. You’ve hit on the underlying issue of both campaigns and that is the attack on identity. I would be tempted to say “perceived” attack, as I quite like both campaigns. But I’m neither a farmer or a scientist so have no right to judge the hurt or anger the portrayals cause. You’re also right to state that those two communities are not the intended audience. But frankly, what group is portrayed properly/fairly in advertising? Men, women, we’re all constantly misrepresented and put down by advertising agencies. It reminds me of farmers furore over MLA’s “Barbie Girl” ads but they apparently resulted in a 30% increase in lamb sales during the period they were aired. That’s got to be good for farmers. Maybe the lesson here is not that farmers are misrepresented, but that urban Australians have shocking taste in ads!

  2. Thanks Heather. Well said. It is time for all professions to be the image they want people to see and to stand up for themselves when this doesn’t happen.
    I remember the Pharmacy Guild doing some cringey adds a few years ago to encourage young men and women to go west. Young women apparently go into pharmacy because the get to talk to Dr’s and guys go into pharmacy because they get lots of time off to play all sorts of sport.
    I was thrilled the farmers stood up for themselves today. Interestingly enough in a social media space – twitter – that Woolworths is yet to move into. So last century, Woolworths.

  3. Banks have lifted their game with agribusiness banking ads – they’re obviously smarter & better advised. However supermarkets & some others are clearly still back in the cave man era. Yesterday I heard KMart has decided to follow the advice of Animals Australia (yes that’s right – the group who ran a deliberate and carefully timed campaign to destroy the northern Australian cattle industry last year) and cease funding Mt Isa Rodeo, one of the largest and best run rodeos in Australia. The AA website has a gloating media release on their website about it, full of rubbish statements similar to their ban live export untruths. And guess what, there’s a large KMart in Mt Isa. These companies need to realise that they can’t just dump on people with one hand and still hope to collect the cash with the other. Social media is the great equaliser, if we all get busy and make full use of it! Fabulous to read messages from great people taking the time & trouble to comment publicly, rather than whine privately but do nothing. But we need more people to speak up, and invest a bit of their time in it too, not just leave it to the busy few.

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