Commentary: Mayo mania

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What does mayonnaise have to do with baby chickens? A relatively new activist groups hopes its shock-treatment video will inspire consumers to connect — and reject — the two.

Activist groups are always fighting for their cause, and for one of a myriad of reasons, it’s seemingly always about going veggie. Climate change, land use, food safety, public health, animal abuse, resources consumption, consumer choices — the list is lengthy.

But a quick distillation of most advocacy organization’s white papers and ad campaigns and marketing tactics quickly uncovers the not-so-hidden agenda: Stop raising livestock and stop eating meat.

Oh, and bash corporations while we’re at it.

But a recent attack on a charter member of “Big Food” by the Farm Forward group was puzzling, which I’m guessing is exactly the reaction its sponsors were hoping to spark. The email message stated, “We’ve just launched a new video to send a message to Best Foods and Hellman’s that baby chicks aren’t trash.” There was a video still of baby chickens and a link to a clip that promised to explain the chicken-mayo connection.

Okay, I was more than puzzled; I was intrigued, and I admit that I clicked on the embedded link. The YouTube site hosted a petition and a shock-mock TV ad with high production values, complete with professional voiceover (click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2akHz_3JH4&feature=youtu.be).

As the “action” unfolded, the voiceover begins:

  • “We made the same sandwich today my mother made for me 30 years ago.” (mom in kitchen making sandwich, as the too-cute girl toddler tries to pull the pit out of an avocado half)
  • “It’s a family tradition.” (motherhood, parenting, family, tradition—the video hits a lot of high-touch triggers in the first 10 seconds)
  • “We buy food with quality ingredients produced in a way my family can be proud of. Food that reflects our values.” (the scene shows the little girl spreading mayonnaise on a slice of bread — get it? Mayo means “values”)
  • “We buy nothing but the best, from companies we trust.” (As the toddler and older boy bite into their mayo-laden sandwiches, there’s a subtle play on the Hellman’s slogan “Bring out the Hellman’s, and bring out the best.”)
  • “But that’s not Best Foods and Hellman’s.” (shows a clip of a bin of baby chicks being dumped onto a conveyor belt, headed, we’re not sure where). “Ask them to put the trust back in their mayonnaise. They don’t need to do anything like this.” (more footage of baby chicks riding the conveyor belt).

Then comes the link to sign some petition, and when you click on that, you get to see a truly disgusting “ad,” which begins with cheerful music as a mom bustles about the kitchen making a sandwich with tomato slices, some sort of meat and, of course, lots of mayo. But in every scene, there are little chicks roaming around, until finally a quick shot of her sweeping the cutting board scraps — and several chicks — into the sink.

Then, the money shot: She leans over and hits the switch for the garbage disposal. A harsh, grinding noise erupts, some feathers fly out of the sink, and the music stops, in favor of the ugly sound of something other than lettuce leaves getting ground to a pulp.

As subtle as a meat grinder

I suppose the image of chickens getting ground up in a disposal isn’t as graphic as some R-rated movie scenes, or “M for Mature” video games. But it’s certainly not subtle in making the point that eating Hellman’s mayonnaise is the moral equivalent of grinding up live chickens.

See, after viewing the fake ads, you’re supposed to be so outraged that you click on a petition to “Tell Hellman’s and Best Foods to “Stop Treating Baby Chicks Like Trash.”

Only at this point are you informed that the “enemy” is the corporate mega-firm Unilever, and the point of the campaign stems from the fact that male chicks are not productive in egg laying operations, and therefore have to be “disposed.” Hopefully, in a manner that doesn’t involve an oversized garbage disposal.

On the one hand, these fake ads try so hard it’s painful to roll out pretty much every cliché in the marketing playbook, focusing on values to which people profess a powerful attachment, even when they don’t ring true. We may not obsess over “food we can be proud of,” but you can bet any consumer survey would show that a significant majority of respondents believe in the sentiments, if not the actual practice of sourcing food “responsibly.”

After watching the videos and reading Farm Forward’s screed demanding that some big corporation stop “trashing” cute baby chicks, I can only come to one conclusion:

I hope the egg industry has an equally compelling story to tell about they deal with the issue of non-egg-laying chickens.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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