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INTERVIEW: Public Negativity Towards the Industry: ‘Time to Bring in the Spin Doctor’- Feedinfo Summit

Source: Feedindo Logo Final

20 July 2021 - In the never-ending struggle between the animal production value chain on one hand and misinformation, misconceptions and sometimes even fake news spread by the press and across social media on the other, the industry, despite its best efforts, is still pondering about how it can improve its collective image and bridge the gap between industry and society.

It is time the industry addresses this challenge head-on and approaches educating consumers differently. On day 1 of The Feedinfo Summit, which will be held on 27-28 October 2021 at the Fairmont Grand Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, Poran Malani, Director at S4Capital, will be giving a fireside chat. With 30 years of experience working in advertising, marketing and digital with companies such as Coca-Cola, Lenovo, ITC, BASF, and within advertising agencies, Poran will be providing tips and advice to animal nutrition industry leaders on how to cultivate image and help play a part in the shift of public opinion.

In the run-up to The Feedinfo Summit, Poran touched upon the topic with Feedinfo editor in chief, Simon Duke. Their discussion below has been edited and condensed.

[Simon] Poran, what can companies in the animal nutrition industry do to continue fighting misconceptions and the so-called ‘agri-bashing’?

[Poran] The first thing to do is create a narrative. What is it we do, how do we do it and why is the end product better for you? Misconceptions are almost always about miscommunication or lack of clear communication. It seems to me that very little has been communicated. First, we must determine the narrative, then we need to find the right partners to join with and third we must find the right platforms and content forms to appeal to the right audiences.

[Simon] Should the industry be concerned by the vegetarian trend and the rise of plant-based proteins, or on the contrary embrace this an opportunity?

Poran Malani

[Poran] From a consumer perspective I think that we need to be prepared and accept that things always change. New trends come with new generations and patterns change even within that. What I did when I was a trendy 20-year-old is not what I do now. People change. What we need to do is embrace the consumer needs and we have to put forward our reasons as to why we are a viable attractive and sustainable choice. I think a lot of the nervousness and negativity comes down to a lack of knowledge and I think it is our responsibility to change that. So yes, always embrace change, work with it, see what people are adapting to and see how we can lean into it. Not everyone is going to become a vegetarian, and not everyone becomes a vegetarian for the same reason. I think it is also worth looking at the fact that while vegetarianism is growing in the West, the number of meat eaters is growing across the world as levels and standards of living rise.

[Simon] In your view – using existing communication technologies – what is the most effective marketing approach to catch the end-consumer’s attention?

[Poran] Today, there are many ways to reach the consumer that simply were not possible even five years ago. The data in existence allows us to find and segment consumers in a way that is incredibly detailed. Technology allows us to create relevant content, short and long form to target them almost on an individual basis. Having said that the industry needs to come together, get a strong narrative and then look at the component parts of digital and storytelling media. With any campaign particularly when you are looking at education we would need a multi-level communication effort, from thought leadership, to events and partner activities to peer group communities, and in this case a programming which I think is much ignored and very powerful.

[Simon] A few years ago, I had the following question for various senior executives in the animal nutrition sector: If we are going to touch areas where the end-consumer is interested, it’s going to depend on where they live, their age. We have to inform them at the point they are at in their lives. We have to educate them in fields which they are comfortable with. But at the same time, the animal nutrition industry must somehow figure out how to inform the end-consumer about feed additives and their positive roles. Simply put, does the consumer care about the efforts underway in the animal nutrition sector? What’s your take on this, Poran?

[Poran] The simple answer to this is no, not yet. The question is: is it a latent interest and is it something they could and should be interested in? I think the answer to that is a resounding yes. If you look at it from the other end, consumers are becoming more and more informed about what is going into their food, their personal products such as makeup and haircare and of course energy. If you are to look at where the major soft drinks manufacturers are heading, it is away from sugar and towards mineral and health additives. In other words what goes into the product is more important than the product itself to many consumers. The next logical step is the nutrition of our animals, the better the feed, the more nutrients, the more natural, the more sustainable. It follows that the end-product will be better for you and be consumed with less guilt. I guess we could think about this like the “Intel Inside”. For many years the chip that drove the computer was made to seem as important as the computer itself. If we can make this relevant, make it interesting and talk about the benefits then we can bring it to the forefront of the consumers’ minds.

[Simon] There was quite a bit of industry outcry when the Netflix documentary called ‘Seaspiracy’ came out earlier this year with viewers within the industry saying that its fishing sector portrayal was biased and not showing the full picture. Would you recommend our industry to also produce documentaries and seek to get them broadcasted on mainstream popular streaming platforms like Netflix?

[Poran] Absolutely. One of the reasons I find this a fascinating area is that everyone eats, and yet very few understand what goes into making the food that we need and want. The link between knowledge and consumption has never been bigger, and we are seeing an increased interest from certain groups who then talk about it with other groups and the cascading begins. I strongly believe that, if done right, there is strong potential for entertaining and informative documentaries that will appeal to new and bigger audiences.

[Simon] OK, let’s take that a step further. What kind of practical steps are needed to get to that stage?

[Poran] Here is a hypothetical approach: Put forward the positive case for a company in the sector.

Consider the facts first. Never hide from the truth. Nothing is worse than a single point of view, biased and vested. While this could work for a corporate video it won’t work for a general consumer video. Preaching to the converted may feel good but it won’t change opinions or gain greater traction than to those already on your side. It is therefore vital to recognise the truth. What is there in the Seaspiracy documentary that you actually think is fair and true and a problem? A painful exercise but the best communications come when you can act like a viscous friend and really be self-critical. Own up to it and then demonstrate how you are going to try and fix things.

Start to develop a narrative. Don't try to do this from within. Too many companies use the documentary route as a corporate video and rarely get credible traction. This is not advertising. You will have to talk to journalists and film makers, you will need to know what people are interested in and what they respond to and meet them in the middle.

Once you establish your truth, and once you establish the consumer interest points you can start to look at various angles. This is where you will need to work with partners who have credibility, programme makers, strategy and communications people from the outside to develop an interesting angle on how to do this. Partnerships with Discovery, the BBC, etc. Or for more control you can go independent, but this will depend on the compelling level of the story you develop. For example, in Seaspiracy they use a very alarmist approach, which is fair enough considering their objective to shock people into awareness. We might decide on a more reassuring angle to demonstrate actions we are taking are well thought out, scientifically based and with the planet at the heart of our goals.

Once we have a narrative. we will need to develop a "vehicle of interest" an idea to dramatically entertain and engage to get the message across. This could be deprivation strategy: "what would the world be like without fish on the table, or beef or lamb etc?” You could construct a mono-history approach to look at how fishing created modern civilisation, led to exploration, the discovery of new worlds, the effect and implication on food and culture, music etc. By doing this you establish the necessity of the industry and its role in our lives and the need to preserve it. From there you would theoretically go hi tech, how you are contributing to make it future ready etc.

Once the story and idea have been identified then we really need to think about the delivery mechanism. How do we want people to see this and be engaged with this? A documentary is the first step but not the only one. It could be a series of 10 five-minute films distributed on the internet. It would need programmatic targeting where we would segment the audiences: professional, neutral and against, and target-specific films across the audiences. We would look at all of the technology platforms from Over-The-Top (OTT) to YouTube, Instagram and Facebook to create blanket awareness across the digital world. This would then seep into the mainstream media by creating shocking facts that create headlines. The point here is that you would need to engage a full digital strategy: a social calendar, a big bang release followed by regular messaging across platforms constantly re-targeting messages as and when the effect is known.

Clearly this is a big task, but it is not as complicated as it seems. The reality is the broader world has very little idea of the science, the data, the entrepreneurship, the technology that goes into making our food supplies safer and safer. Big challenges take brave actions and forward thinking. This is what must come across to start reclaiming the higher ground of goodwill.