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FT FEB2016-HR 5 Many in the food technology business may have seen the recent ‘bobby calf’ scandal as a profound blow to the branding and reputation of New Zealand dairy farming around the world. Certainly the disgusting concoction of milk, blood and an embryonic-looking calf in the SAFE campaign ads would have shocked people and fulfilled the criteria of violating societal norms in terms of what you might expect to see in the media. For me, however, the scandal offers an important step in the evolution of New Zealand’s dairy industry, and an opportunity to diversify into multiple value-added niche products. Imagine how great it would be if New Zealand was the country leading the world in the ethical treatment of various by-products associated with the dairy industry. That’s why it’s important not to see this as a negative, but a chance to increase the sophistication of the sector. We don’t often have chances like this to take an unhelpful campaign and turn it into something the whole country can benefit from. Most savvy consumers realise that there are unpleasant by-products of any produce associated with animals. It’s really not the fact that bobby calves need to be slaughtered in the dairy industry, but how they are treated and how humanely they are disposed of that matters. The SAFE advertisements, whilst appealing to animal rights groups, probably alienated some of its support by accusing an entire industry of animal cruelty when the video footage taken was probably a very small minority. It would have rallied the animal activists, vegans and other people with no interest in buying dairy or other animal associated products. These people already accept SAFE’s campaign, and will continue to support them. ‘Shockvertising’ works on the premise of violating societal norms, which attract attention and then increase awareness and recall of the advert, its message and tone. Research has been unable to quantify the return on investment of shock ads in terms of sales, acceptance of a message, willingness to boycott, or intention to donate to the cause. The million dollar question, of course, is whether the added attention and recall outweighs the potential for offence and consumer retaliation. The other more important consumer group represents the larger mainstream milk-consuming population of the world, and is obviously the market that New Zealand dairy farmers are most concerned about. For these consumers, it’s about increased transparency and the ability to vote with their wallets in terms of supporting farmers who are able to ensure the humane treatment of bobby calves, as well as other by-products associated with the industry. Because shock ads work on norm violation, the line that advertisers may wish to cross is a moving one. Public adverts about condom use two decades ago might have been considered shocking, but these days are openly accepted and sometimes even applauded. Often an advertiser will only know they have crossed the line when numerous complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority force them to discontinue an ad. It’s a very risky game to play, but sometimes a calculated risk is made in favour of increased attention and recall. So, what’s the upside to all this, I hear you ask? I predict that in a few years’ time we will see multiple options available on the shelf where ‘bobby calf assured’ milk products become as commonplace as ‘dolphin safe’ tuna, ‘free range’ eggs, and ‘cage free’ pork. If we can take something negative and hone it into diversification into multiple value-added niche products, we’re winning… hands down. D A I R Y I N D U S T R Y Shock bobby calf advertising has positive repercussions Dr Mike Lee is a senior lecturer of marketing at the University of Auckland, specialising in marketing strategy, research, consumer behaviour, advertising and promotions, and contemporary issues in marketing. His research interests are in brand avoidance, consumer resistance and activism, and anticonsumption. By Dr Mike Lee

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