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Meat product brand storytelling: extracting values

28 May 2019

By Rosana Cervera

Agrofood journalist

The term has been coming up over and over again in recent years in the corporate communication and advertising context: storytelling, but we still haven’t coined anything that means exactly the same in Spanish.

The Association of Public Relations Companies and Consultants defines storytelling in its Guide to Storytelling and Branded Content as a technique for telling stories that communicate the values of a company, brand or product and which connect with their target audiences”. It’s a question of “transmitting the values of a brand in a story, naturally and implicitly, in the same way that ethical values have been transmitted from generation to generation through stories, myths and fables.

For years, the food sector and more precisely the meat sector, led by bring brands, has focused its communication strategy on products, putting them at the heart of their campaigns, showing images of sausages, cold meats and steaks in our homes. According to the Executive Creative Director of the advertising agency McCann Worldgroup Raquel Martínez, “in the food sector, everything seems to happen in the kitchen, with happy people eating the product”.

However, storytelling can be extremely useful to more established categories, where products and their rational virtues are already familiar. When it comes down to it, it’s mankind’s oldest form of communication: the oral tradition. Stories that transmit values and achieve higher levels of awareness and are therefore better remembered. In short, storytelling is used to create contents that empathise with consumers using the ancient art of storytelling, using humour, imagination and intrigue.

Marketing and advertising have used storytelling from the beginning, but the setting and the ways that brands communicate have changed significantly in the last 20 years. The digital revolution has triggered an explosion of new channels, with new points of contact between brands and audiences, and therefore, the possibilities of establishing a far more interactive relationship between them. Everyone is able to click in a search engine or use social media, and communication now requires brands to enter into conversations to attract the attention of their audiences and allow them to participate.

According to Communication Strategy and Creative Consultancy specialist Alain Uceda, “the time for unidirectional communication and the almost authoritarian attitude of brands is gone, communication has transformed into something more like a playground, where everyone can talk and express their opinions. That’s why the way that brands talk to people has had to change, because consumers have far more mechanisms for responding, and that has also affected their messages and the way those messages are presented to consumers.”

“To stand out in this new brand situation, communication must be approached with courage and hard work, leaving the playground and seeing what happens. But there’s more. You've sent out the message and you have to believe in it and stand up for it, whatever responses it may receive. Be consistent and coherent”, says Jaime Lobera, head of marketing for Campofrío between 2007 and November 2018.

Comics by Campofrío, or how to make sales to grow by 11% by making people smile

Chronologically speaking, El Pozo was the first meat product brand to start telling stories that connected with viewers, shifting the focus from the product to a more natural stance, with claims like “We’d like to release you from your load” in 2005 with its Pavo Pozo 0% campaign, and “Real health is on the inside. Eat well” in its 2006 campaign, to name just two examples. “These campaigns were based on empathy and understanding from viewers, acknowledging that the consumer was the hero of the film, an aspect that started appearing in advertising by big brands like Nike and Apple, but which had not reached the food world”, explained Alain Uceda, who was Creative Director at El Pozo between 2001 and 2006.

Some years later, El Pozo abandoned the emotional path and went back to talking about the product, and Campofrío was the company that premiered its Comics advertisement in December 2011, achieving a milestone of Spanish advertising.

Comics was a watershed in Campofrío’s communication strategy. When this campaign was devised, we were still doing a lot of advertising focused on rational values and the product, and based on repeating the message; after reflecting, we understood that everybody already knew about the products and their rational attributes, but that we could still talk to our customers about more transcendental aspects, about shared values. The brand could play a more active role, and the product could be more generous and less attention grabbing, addressing our audience with friendlier subjects”, explains Jaime Lobera. “Comics is fruit of a historic moment for Spain: a deep economic crisis that started in 2008. We believed that with this campaign we could send out an optimistic message to the world and show that a meat brand could be a fun brand with very positive values. More importantly, that together we have the ability to overcome problems and enjoy life” adds Jaime.

It was a resounding success, not only because it became a trending topic on Twitter for three days and was viewed two million times on YouTube in a mere three days, but because the brand's sales figures grew by 11% in the sausage category, advertising impact soared by 33.2% and with less investment than the main competitor it gained 11% more impact. (Source: Marketing News and McCann Worldgroup).

So much so that the brand has been repeating the experience every year since: “At Christmas, people look forward to seeing the Campofrío advertisement, which has carved out a niche for itself among the typical brands seen at this time of year, like cava and the lottery”, says Raquel Martínez.

But not everything began in 2011. In June 2008, Campofrío launched a bold campaign entitled Vegetarians. According to the creative director of McCann: “The client challenged us to take a risk to raise our profile, and the campaign changed our advertising strategy at Campofrío. This was the first time it used storytelling and pleasant humour as a tool”.

And in light of all this success, what are the drawbacks when it comes to communicating values and triggering emotions? “It just means being a courageous brand and choosing a different communication tone, because it is the way you speak that makes you stand out and builds the brand”, according to Raquel Martínez, “we find a way of creating an emotional connection between the brand and the audience, how the product is part of their daily lives by talking about what matters to them”.

That’s how Delicious calm  was created: a campaign for a product, Pavofrio, with a clearly female audience, devised by a mainly female team, which used a rational value of the product (that it contains tryptophan, essential amino acid that is a precursor of serotonin, which also affects the processes that control your mood and help to reduce stress) to create a restaurant where all Spanish women could relax in their everyday life. A campaign that won the Gold Award for Efficacy, and a 4.5% greater share of the market (Source: McCann Worldgroup).

But if we’re talking about meat sector brands, we can’t omit the advertising campaigns done by Interbranch Agri-food Organisations (Organizaciones Interprofesionales Agroalimentarias): beef, chicken, Iberian pork, rabbit, sheep and goat, white pig and wild game, some of which are registered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Food, organisations whose main objective is promotion, and whose pleasant profile enables them to reach consumers in a more subtle manner.

“Meat sector Interbranch Agri-food Organisations amalgamate the values of all links in the food chain, and because of this complexity, sometimes advertising ends up in the shot of the product”, said Jaime Pire, creative director of the agency Copiloto Estudio, who has worked for several of these organisations. “I think as a generic product, it has an easier time than commercial brands. It’s easier to tell stories, because they already exist. The story behind beef, for example, is far richer than that of any commercial brand and it is intrinsically linked to sociological, historic and cultural values”.

Some of them, beyond insisting with recipes, nutritional values and flavour, have started appealing to emotional factors, because the product is as important as the values associated with its production. For example, we can talk about sustainability, a strategic facet of the Interovic (Interprofesional del Ovino y Caprino de Carne) 2018-2020 promotional campaign, which tells three stories about three characters who advocate for protecting biodiversity, preventing forest fires and maintaining the rural environment, values promoted by lamb and suckling animal production. (Source: Interovic).

Because one undeniable advantage of storytelling is that telling positive stories strengthens brand reputation, making the products more resilient to crisis situations. “Interbranch Agri-food Organisations tend to launch too many defensive campaigns, and there always seems to be someone ready to malign meat”, according to Pire. “I believe that the road to success of some Interbranch Agri-food Organisations lies in storytelling, which will be copied by others, because it is going to help to put a face on the products, tell memorable stories and empathise with society”.

On the same line, according to Lobera, “one of the most interesting contributions of Meat Attraction is the presence of positive messages. It’s a place that adds value to meat products. This change of attitude is lovely and promising, works in favour, saying good things about everything to do with the meat sector.”

One might say, therefore, that storytelling means success, not only for achieving greater visibility, but for empathising with consumers, impacting sales and building a positive reputation, although in 2011, everyone, as consumers, found it surprising that a deli brand would decide to advertise during the Christmas period, that and other campaigns by different brands, showing that storytelling is useful in sectors other than the automotive and distribution sectors, and is available for any brand to achieve victory.

And if it’s a question of extracting values, we can confirm that the possibilities are as wide as the risk the brand wants to take: “All the campaigns we have done also have a touch of current society. We’ve criticised political corruption, we’ve talked about the preferences that ruined thousands of citizens, gender inequality, matters intrinsic, perhaps, to other environments, but our consumers, and what’s also important, our employees, celebrate this interaction with the company”, explained Jaime Lobera.

“The best thing that a storytelling campaign can do is to get the public talking about you, because you've inspired them, because you’ve connected with them. When you see that advertising has transcended, that you’ve created content that everyone wants to share, you realise you're building a brand with a unique personality”, says Alain Uceda, also a teacher at the Expert Agri-food Communication Course taught at the San Jorge University and the Spanish Association of Farming Journalists (Asociación de Periodistas Agroalimentarios de España (APAE)).

There's no magic formula for using storytelling and the values it can give to a brand, but it seems that when creative talent and courage combine to tell exciting stories, it can even work for something as ordinary as a slice of boiled ham.