Dairy farmers tired of social media and video attacks on their lives and livelihoods are launching a counterattack this week, using an unlikely communications vehicle.
"The Udder Truth," a series of videos and edgy content designed to address common consumer myths, kicks off July 21. The campaign is created by Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program.
To ensure the videos reach the target audience – millennials – DMI is partnering with The Onion, a satirical "news" site popular with this audience. The effort seeks to set the record straight about the work dairy farmers do and the milk they produce. However, the campaign may take people out of their comfort zones, and organizers emphasize dairy farmers are not the target audience.
The Onion writers will publish content interjecting humor into the absurdity of dairy myths. Articles are designed to hit back at rampant misinformation and "faux" authorities, asking people to think critically before they accept information on the Internet and through social media.
Through paid advertising, readers will then be redirected to get the truth from dairy farmers at DairyGood.org. There, visitors will see a three-part video series featuring farmers debunking common myths surrounding antibiotics, animal care and "factory" farms.
"We're heading into some unchartered areas in addressing and debunking some myths that have really done some harm to good reputations of our nation's dairy farmers for too long," said DMI's Scott Wallin. "We are edgier than we were in the past. We're using a tone and video images that connect to the millennial audience. We do it to break through and get their interest, because once you get their interest, you can have a conversation with them.
One of farmers featured in a video is Annie Link, SwissLane Dairy Farms, part of a 2,000-cow family dairy near Alto, Mich.
SwissLane Dairy hosts about 6,000 farm visitors between April and October annually. As a farm tour host, Link frequently gets questions related to dairy production management from visitors, many who may have received misinformation via social media.
"It's nice to be able to talk to people and see their fear melt away when they are exposed to the truth, and know we are here doing the best we can to take care of our cows and produce food," the fourth-generation dairy farmer said.
Link admitted initial hesitancy to participate in the campaign, but noted she takes attacks on dairy farmers and the dairy industry personally. She believes being a participant will be worth the risks she may face as a target for activists.
"There comes a point when we know that when we are doing the best we can, and doing right, and have good on our side and the truth on our side, if we aren't telling our story, somebody else will," she said.
Taking a stand
"We're heading where we feel we need to be as an industry in order to reach the group of millennials," explained Mollie Waller, DMI's Chief Communication Officer. "The way social media works today, people are most likely to believe others like themselves, and so we have to reach those people in the channels where they are, and in the conversation tone it requires to get their interest."
"We wholeheartedly believe and know we are taking a big step in reclaiming dairy's voice, and building the trust and advocacy that we know exists among most consumers," Waller said. "We want to target the 'moveable middle' and help draw them back into the great things dairy is."
Waller called the campaign a milestone where dairy takes a stand to reclaim its voice.
"The idea of consumer confidence is part of the history and heritage for the dairy industry," she said. "We have always done right by our farms, families, environment and communities. Over time, as people moved away from the farm, a couple of generation gaps occurred, where misinformation became more the mainstay. The further we got disconnected from the farm, the less we understood about ag. Consumer confidence, as a whole, is about reclaiming dairy's voice, and breaking through to help reconnect consumers to the products they know and love. We want to reignite the love affair that exists between dairy farmers and consumers."
Jessica Learman, DMI Vice President of Integrated Communications, said the three videos will be promoted on a rolling schedule. Dairy farmers, manufacturers, co-ops and other industry players can promote the video series to help set the record straight about dairy.
"We expect farmers, industry partners and media to create a ‘surround sound" to amplify the message," said Waller. "This gives farmers a platform to tell their own personal stories. They can share it loudly and proudly on their Facebook and other social media properties. It gives them content to amplify, and build on it from their own personal standpoint. The more stories the better."
Program success will be measured in how many times videos are watched and shared, as well as online and offline comments. Ultimately, the long-term goal is to change consumer behavior, with the understanding that will be a lengthy process.
"The farming community is ready and excited for this opportunity to tell the truth," said Waller. "It is the start of a marathon. We're probably at mile 3 of the 26 miles right now. This is one piece of ongoing continual content. It requires a continuous pipeline of communication to break through all the information out there, and reconnect people to dairy farms, dairy farmers and the dairy industry."
"We want to set agenda, instead of responding to someone else's agenda. This is how we can have the conversation start on our terms," she concluded.
Second initiative launched this fall
A second checkoff-led consumer confidence initiative, "Acres and Avenues," will be unveiled this fall to continue the conversation and help consumers reconnect with the farmers who produce our nation's food. Acres and Avenues will deliver a cultural exchange/job shadow opportunity between farmers and millennials who share a common value, such as commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability. That video series is hosted by noted travel and food blogger Jax Austin.