Archive for the ‘agribusiness’ Tag

The Marketer’s Dilemma

I haven’t been blogging much lately.  This is pretty much due to the fact that I just spent the last week driving across the country as my wife and I moved to Seattle.  However, I did make pretty good use of the time I spent in the Uhaul truck.  As I drove, I listened to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma on audiobook.  I hadn’t intended to use it in my studies.  My intention was to listen to it for pure enjoyment.

As I listened, two things struck me. First, I was struck by the way my route from Tennessee to Seattle coincided with what Pollan was talking about. From the cornfields of Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma to the massive cattle feed lots of Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming, I seemed to follow the path of America’s industrial eating habits. I hope my destination of Seattle fits with this theme as well, as Seattle is home to a great many farmer’s markets and local food options. However, we, as a society, are a good ways off from kicking our addiction to and dependence on industrial agribusiness and toxic foods.

The other thing that struck me about the book is the parallels between our food choices and our media choices. In particular, I was struck by how similar marketing is to farming. As Pollan described the differences between industrial farming, industrial-organic farming, and the organic movement, I couldn’t help but think about mass media marketing, new media marketing, and social media.

The similarities between industrial farming and mass media marketing are glaring. Both give little to no thought as to their impact on the earth or society. Both are concerned only with profit. At first glance, both seem to be very cost-effective ways of doing their jobs. However, both have costs that are paid, not by those reaping the profits, but by the public. Industrial farming comes with environmental degradation, poor water quality, poor nutrition, etc. These costs are absorbed by society. Mass media marketing comes with increased consumerism, increased dissatisfaction, a greater aversion to media, etc., which all take a toll on society.

On the other end of the spectrum from industrial farming is the organic movement. This movement is focused on sustainability and local foods. Unlike industrial farming, farms in the organic movement tend to take a more holistic approach to farming. Instead of seeing nature as something to be exploited for profit, farmers in the organic movement tend to view nature as a partner that should be worked with for mutual benefit. Social media is much like this. Where mass media sees consumers as a resource to be exploited for profit, marketers who understand social media realize that consumers are now partners that must be worked with. In the world of social media, people are no longer one-dimensional consumers. Everyone is a producer and everyone is a consumer. Marketers who understand social media also tend to realize that, in order for their messages to continue to be heard, they have to take care not to do harm in their marketing. Consumers, just like the planet, are starting to fight back.

Finally, in both food production and marketing, there is a strange middle ground. Pollan talks about this middle ground of food production as “industrial organic.” Industrial organic farmers are those that apply the same mono-cultural practices as industrial agribusiness. They only differ in that their inputs are certified organic. What this amounts to is the use of “organic” as nothing more than a marketing tool. The middle ground in marketing is similar. When corporations start blogging or join social networks or let users create content on their websites without themselves changing the way they present their message, they are using social media as nothing more than a marketing ploy. An example of this would be General Motors creating a site where consumers could generate their own commercials only to have GM take the site down when the messages seemed to be negative. When organizations try to use the tools of social media to broadcast a traditional marketing message, they are playing in that middle ground.

I guess it makes sense, but I am still amazed at how intertwined marketing and farming are. I guess it comes from the fact that modern agribusiness has foolishly adopted the idea that free-market hyper capitalism works in agriculture. When it comes down to it, both in marketing and agribusiness, there are a few huge corporations trying to convince us all to buy a bunch of crap. Eventually, most of that crap will end up killing us.