CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/BEEF ADVERTISING; Can ads help restore public confidence in beef?

Press, poster and TV work extol the delights of beef eating, Janet Izatt reports

Press, poster and TV work extol the delights of beef eating, Janet Izatt


Three months after the beef industry plummeted into crisis following an

admission by the Health secretary, Stephen Dorrell, that BSE could be

linked to its human equivalent, Creutzfeld Jacob Disease, the Meat and

Livestock Commission has unveiled a new press, poster and television

campaign through BMP DDB (Campaign, 21 June).

The campaign continues the ‘recipe for love’ theme developed by BMP in

previous MLC campaigns and tackles the hardest-hit part of the beef

business - mince.

It uses the ‘awkward schoolboy’ execution, which had been set to run in

March until it was scuppered by Dorrell’s statement, but also introduces

a quality standard marque.

The MLC hopes that a rosette placed on all meat that is offal-free will

help restore consumer confidence in beef products generally.

But has the MLC wasted too much time in reacting to the crisis? Should

it have acted when the current crisis hit in November, or even back in

1988 when a link between CJD and BSE-infected beef was first mooted?

The MLC denies that it has been sitting on its hands, hoping the problem

will go away, although it is painfully aware that sales of beef are

still well down - 40 per cent for mince and 10 per cent for prime cuts.

Both the MLC and BMP claim that there was a danger of further alienating

consumers with soft advertising slogans while they were still angry and

confused by conflicting reports about the hazards of eating beef.

Since last November, the MLC has carried out 50 research projects to

track what consumers think and feel about beef. By March, consumer

confidence in, and sales of, beef were almost back to pre-November

levels. Then Dorrell’s comments sent the MLC back to the starting

blocks. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the MLC has kept the

Government’s involvement in the campaign to a minimum.

Chris Lamb, the MLC’s marketing manager, explains: ‘We had to take stock

and let consumers’ fear and anger die down so that they would be in a

different mindset. There is no way we could match the column inches of

negative reports about beef - we would have been swamped.’

The MLC knew it had to produce a solid news story backed with concrete

facts, as Lamb explains: ‘We wanted to say that beef is safe but we

couldn’t because of Advertising Standards Authority regulations. I kept

saying we need some sort of kitemark. If you buy an electric kettle and

it has a kitemark you know it’s not going to blow up. We needed the same

thing to instill confidence.’

Lamb continues: ‘We are hoping that by using the marque, those people

who waiver about beef will have more confidence in eating it, those who

eat it will feel better and those who don’t eat it might think about


John McKnight, BMP’s joint deputy managing director, supports Lamb’s

views, saying: ‘This is an ongoing crisis that may get worse before it

gets better. The idea of putting a rosette on beef as a marker is to get

people to think sensibly about the issue.’

But will a marque be enough to calm a public still unsure about beef?

The British Egg Information Service, which faced a similar crisis in

1988 following a statement by the MP, Edwina Currie, that ‘most egg

production’ was contaminated by salmonella, believes the MLC is on the

right track.

The egg industry re-introduced a marque, the red lion, which had been

used in the 50s and 60s, to restore consumer confidence.

‘You can’t advertise your way out of a crisis unless there’s something

behind it. That’s why it took us a year to introduce the red lion

marque,’ the BEIS director, Amanda Cryer, says. ‘We had to be sure that

there was a strong enforcement system so people could be confident and

this took a lot of lobbying followed by licensing of egg producers

before we could go public with it.’

The MLC might be following the right path, but it faces many obstacles on the road to recovery - the biggest being burgers, the meat product most closely associated with mince. So far, only one of the three major burger chains, Wimpy, has agreed to use British beef in association with

the new rosette marque.

McDonald’s, the biggest burger chain, which scored a publicity coup when

it announced that it would not use British beef until consumers felt

comfortable eating it, is still buying from abroad. Nor is it ever

likely to use the rosette.

‘We do welcome what the MLC is doing in advertising the quality of mince

products that use prime cuts as opposed to offal, but we never used 100

per cent British Beef so we would not be able to use the marque,’ Eddie

Bensilum, the McDonald’s senior manager, communications, says.

Furthermore, Sainsbury’s cut-price beef promotion in April, which

precipitated a dramatic rise in sales of beef, has also clouded the BSE-

CJD issue by suggesting that consumer purchasing habits are driven by

price as well as health concerns. Lamb admits that the scarcity of in-

store beef price promotions over the past three months has also kept

beef sales low.

This is another area that the MLC is having to tackle. Lamb says: ‘There

isn’t a magic wand that will bring things back to normal overnight. We

have to take one step at a time.’