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Agriculture vs. advertisers: can we get too defensive?

Per my last article, I feel compelled to start this with a disclaimer as this will very much be an opinion piece. The entire point of these articles is to offer alternative perspectives and incite discussion in the ag community. I think oftentimes we need fresh, critical perspectives from outside and within.

Obviously, I can’t encompass every single issue that falls under the umbrella of this broad topic. So I ask that my audience recognize this is a response to some very specific advertisements and some very specific reactions I have observed. We good? Alright let’s dive right into it!

The Super Bowl ropes in a lot more tribes beyond the football fanatics. Each year it brings fresh drama, controversy, commentary and discussion for the better and worse. Social media has greatly magnified all these areas.

Justified or over exemplified?

In 2019 we saw two commercials by Bud Light and Mint Mobile that were taken…rather strongly. (Actually, on a similar note I heard coal miners weren’t happy with Budweiser’s “clean energy” commercial either. That can be loosely grouped into this category as this industry faces a lot of the same sentiments and challenges ag does.) I won’t summarize them here, you can click the link, and chances are you’re already familiar with the nitty-gritty.

A lot of corn guys weren’t too happy about the anti-corn syrup angle that Bud Light took. This is somewhat understandable as corn syrup, with its economic significance, has historically had its own stigma and controversy through the ears. But it’s for exactly that same reason that some of the backlash at times seemed a bit excessive, in my opinion. The videos pouring beer down the sinks and floods of angry comments popped up almost immediately. Honestly, I’ve seen corn syrup be portrayed much more negatively in other commercials. This one just seemed to reiterate that because Bud Light doesn’t use it, corn syrup was implied to be an inferior ingredient, not literally condemned as one. As a few in the sphere of #agtwitter pointed out, Bud Light has always been brewed with rice anyways.

I’m sure the white-collared execs didn’t even fathom this being taken an explicit diss at corn growers, more as a hot-button point familiar among consumers. A careless choice perhaps, but not directly malicious. Now reactions to certain organizations, say those against bioengineering or spraying, who are deliberately being deceitful with a specific agenda, are probably the more worthwhile pursuit.

As someone in the dairy industry, I found the reaction to the “chunky style milk” ad by Mint Mobile to be quite amazing. When I saw it, I found the uncomfortable humor at least acceptable. Personally, I didn’t see anything of an anti-dairy message; milk was just the vector chosen to carry the joke.

Now I know a lot of those in the industry are hurting a lot right now. It can be very hard to laugh at a lot of things, especially at something with even the remote possibility of indirectly driving consumers away. We see these emotional struggles daily where I work.

Understandable, but what do these very outspoken comments defaming the company (who again, wasn’t explicitly anti-dairy) saying about the industry? Pretend to be on the outside looking in. Would someone think that farmers are desperate? That their industry is too fragile to be poked fun at? That they’re so terrified of losing consumers they’ll be up in arms on social media? I’d venture to say the majority of the dairy world on social media veered towards taking a negative stance on this commercial. But there were a few personalities, such as Derrick Josi, who didn’t see it as being starkly anti-dairy.

Let me switch gears and speak from a solely-observational perspective. The ag nay-sayers really thrive off of farmers getting down. It fuels their fire along the lines of “what we’re doing is working because even the ag folks can’t ignore us anymore!” That did always irritate me. And of the consumer audience left that we can sway and influence, well, let’s just say that negativity and nay-saying and giving off that vibe of butt-hurtness doesn’t gain us any favors as a community. Amongst ourselves,sure, we can complain and debate all we want, but when I see the Mint Mobile pop-up ad on my Facebook feed swarmed by hoards of angry comments from dairy producers and industry professionals, I can’t help but cringe a little bit. Vegans act like that, we shouldn’t.

The online ag communities certainly have their sensitivities, if you will. Again, speaking from observation and this is very subjective, but I truly believe agriculturalists, as a whole, are not good at taking constructive criticism, from outside or within.

I will reiterate this again to be very clear. There are certain times the well-being of our industries demand we take a polarizing stance and speak up. For example in situations where false information is spread or where information is deliberately misrepresented – especially by companies or organizations with ulterior anti-ag motives. Then a response is much more warranted and advisable.

But a few commercials that loosely portrayed certain products as being inferior or jokingly? In such a case, I feel a loud social media backlash does more harm than good. Remember, the world is watching. They don’t see the hours that took to produce those products, they don’t see the gamble of the market, they don’t see the passion behind it. They see the anger, the loud battling for consumer loyalty.

Ag communities on social media – toxic at times?

Shifting gears very slightly, I think this is also an excellent opportunity to think about our agricultural footprint on social media. This is an excellent arena to grow customers, agvocate and have healthy discussion. But it also brings out some of our greatest weaknesses as agriculturalists. (Do note, I am just as guilty in this as anyone else.)

Everyone in ag seems to think they’ve got the right answers and way of doing things. Social media has helped fuel these mindsets because it allows the like-minded to congregate together. Let me share one of the best comments I have ever read. It was in response to a Hoard’s Dairyman article that was getting some negative reactions because it tried to shine a positive light on “life after farming” idea. Dairy specific, I know. But the overarching theme is something I believe every ag industry can relate to.

Generally speaking (not always) based of experiences on dairy networking groups via Facebook, the people who get most offended at the thought that there is anything in life more important than the farm or that there is even a world that exists beyond the boundaries of their own driveway are members of a fierce tribe I call “milk your owners.” These people swear by the mantra that you never should own more cows than you can handle yourself. the only real farmers are the ones who milk 14 times a week, 52 weeks a year, not missing a milking in 25 years is something to be proud of, and that employee should be a 4 letter word. These people demand that the industry should still allow them to afford the same standard of living milking the same number of cows their grandparents did. They are the ones who condemn the neighbor for having more cows than them, driving a nicer truck than them, and being able to attend their kids sporting events while someone else does chores. There is nothing wrong with working hard but when that’s the only thing you do that becomes your entire identity and the people closest to you are the ones who suffer the most. It is my opinion that the milk your owners are the ones who get most upset at articles like these because whether they want to admit it or not they will find it nearly impossible to exist in the dairy industry for many more years and because their whole life has been summed up in their work on the farm, when they inevitably exit the industry they not only lose their life’s work but their entire identity as well and are nothing more than an empty vessel. I’m not saying that smaller farms won’t be able to exist in the future but they will do so only because of multiple business entities or direct/niche marketing. A lot of these operations brag about how their debt per cow is the lowest and everything is paid off while ignoring their ever-shrinking cash flows as the cost of operations continue to rise. Paid off machinery and facilities are great but they eventually need replacing no matter how good at repairs you are and when that time comes it is nearly always the death knell for operations who’s business plan has been learn to live on less and less instead of reinvest and grow


I found this observation to be rather powerful. I see this all the time not only in dairy, but in anything ag-related. These kinds of mindsets with such strong feelings are especially rampant among the niche market folks (both farmers and the supporters) especially when it comes to organic, grass-fed, pastured, “all-natural” etc. (But you see it among the conventional guys as well.)

Certain cliques within these groups seem to be less interested in the wider agricultural industry and more interested in promoting their methodology as being superior. This has always rubbed me the wrong way, I just cannot bonafide support farmers who want to bash other farmers.

We all give a lot of criticism, in our circles and outside them. That’s just fine and good, but we have to be able to take the same kinds of punches that we throw. Let’s always remember, the world is watching us. So let’s try and pick our battles and our weapons wisely. Whatever the cast my friends, “Keep Calm and Farm On.”

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