CLOSE-UP: PERSPECTIVE; Advertising alone cannot put an end to the beef fiasco

You can’t polish a turd. Sadly, you’re not allowed to say that on BBC news programmes. Nor can you insert stool, or poo or any other meaningful word. You can say muck, but that doesn’t really mean the same thing. And ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ is not only less pithy, its not easy to say on cue either.

You can’t polish a turd. Sadly, you’re not allowed to say that on BBC

news programmes. Nor can you insert stool, or poo or any other

meaningful word. You can say muck, but that doesn’t really mean the same

thing. And ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ is not only

less pithy, its not easy to say on cue either.



It’s a pity because ‘you can’t polish a turd’ is really all you can say

to the countless ‘what kind of advertising and PR campaigns should the

Government run in order to restore public confidence in British beef?’

questions. It’s strange, in the light of the ad industry’s collective

current insecurity, that the media still thinks it is possible to rescue

such a dire situation with a catchy slogan such as ‘Beef is Safe to Eat’

or ‘British beef - udderly fresh, udderly good, udderly safe’.



To use yet another advertising cliche, there’s nothing that kills a bad

product more than good ads. Actually, any advertising. Remember ‘this is

the age of the train’? It may have been apt at the time of Stephenson’s

rocket, but was pretty ropey given the state of British Rail at the

time. Remember the happy, smiley National Westminster Bank people

featured in Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s first campaign? Remember what it was

really like walking into a branch of NatWest? ‘Was?’



What if, by some extraordinary miracle, an advertising campaign for

British beef was commissioned, ran and did work? People would start

eating British beef again, only for us to see a rush of further CJD

cases. What then for the Government?



This won’t happen, of course, because surely the Government knows that

it would be ridiculous to run a campaign in the immediate future. The

subject is all over the media anyway. More important, given its recent

record, no-one would believe a word of a Government-sponsored campaign

anyway. That’s why it has to make a dramatic gesture and order a

slaughter of cattle. The Government needs to be seen to be doing

something to rectify the mess it has got itself into.



It could do worse than take a leaf out of McDonald’s book. Of course,

McDonald’s doesn’t have to rely on the support of the National Farmers

Union, but its decisiveness in taking beef off its menu, advertising the

fact clearly, and then making a plain statement about the introduction

of foreign beef will be rewarded by the British public, which will

retain its confidence in the brand. It may hurt British beef farmers

still more in the short term, but it is only measures like this, which

bring home the seriousness of the situation, that will lead to something

being done. Money talks the loudest. The only drawback to McDonald’s

action is that future marketing directors will have to share platforms

with their equivalent from Perrier during dreary seminars on crisis

management.



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