Marketing has never really been about honesty. It has always been about selling dreams and fantasies of a life you want to lead. Whether it be smoother cigarettes, faster cars, more absorbent diapers or even healthier food.

Connecting the consumer to this happiness involves confirming someone’s existing biases or promising them that their purchase leads to true happiness. “Your life will be better if you just had this one thing.”

don draper driving happiness

So knowing all of this, why does advertising upset us so much? Many of us have had heated debates about the marketing of A&W, Subway, Chipotle, Earls Restaurants, and Del Monte at some point in the past five years. Many of us have been upset enough to even boycott these brands based on how the products produced at our own farms are represented.

Up until now, these food marketing campaigns have been about selling people on the happiness of a better food life. In some cases, it’s about shifting people to organic. But that’s mostly because the retail margin is higher, not because its “better” for you.

I cannot think of a marketing campaign that misrepresents organic production, until now. Welcome to Mr. Seed, produced by Seed Matters and Clif Bar & Company.

When I first watched the Mr Seed video one thought came to mind: Although Clif Bar and Seed Matters are trying to promote organics by trashing conventional agriculture (in rated R), I think organics comes off poorly and is just as misrepresented in the video as conventional farming.

And I was not alone, Rob Wallbridge, an organic farmer from Quebec, had these thoughts on the video:

As another organic farmer pointed out, it’s frustrating to see companies take such a divisive approach to issues like this. It ends up leading to more confusion and misunderstanding for everyone.
To begin with, “organic” is a production system, not a seed breeding method. I can buy both certified organic open pollinated seed and certified organic hybrids. Like all farmers, organic farmers decide which seeds to plant based on a wide variety of economic, agronomic, and other factors. Like many organic farmers, I’ve planted heirloom varieties right alongside modern hybrids developed for pest resistance or enhanced nutrient content.

 Cliff bars
Some other thoughts I had while watching the video and checking out the Seed Matters website.

  • No matter the production system, seeds are bred in a lab or greenhouse.
  • Organic farmers burn fuel in their tractors too.
  • Organic roots are not stronger or deeper to the best of my knowledge.
  • The production system has limited impact on taste of the final product — there is no way anyone could tell the difference between an organic Clif Bar and a conventional Clif Bar. Just a side note: Clif Bars are only 70% organic anyways.
  • Cross pollination is a characteristic, whether it’s an organic system or not.
  • Organic producers believe in science too.
  • There is some irony that Mr. Seed trashes big agri-companies but I’m sure the company is perfectly fine that you buy your Clif Bars at big box grocery stores like Costco and Walmart…..just sayin’.
  • Organic farmers take full advantage of technology advances in equipment and production techniques. They do not drive tractors from the 1950’s and wear the oldest ball cap in their closet.
  • Not all organic farmers are tiny producers.  Many are thriving, growing large operations that are the same size as conventional farms.

Rob Wallbridge continued his thoughts:

There are valid concerns about consolidation in the seed and input sector, and I fully support calls for greater public investment in agricultural research – I see that reflected right across the ag sector. I also think that researching varieties suited for organic production could yield benefits for all farmers. This video may draw attention to the issues, but it also misleads viewers by creating false distinctions. Making real progress in these areas is going to depend on understanding and cooperation, and in my opinion “Mr. Seed” ends up doing more harm than good.

In the end, Mr. Seed is trying to help you find Don Draper’s marketing happiness by making you angry about the oppressive behaviour of “big pharma ag.” The video insinuates that “big pharma ag” deserves to have its butt kicked by organic lovers fighting back. Really, this is just another food company using farmers as a pawn in its game to increase margins and sell the consumer on a new level of perceived happiness.

Who is the big bad bully now?

4 thoughts on “Who is the Bully Now? Clif Bars Goes Over the Edge to Sell You on the Happiness of Organics

  1. “I cannot think of a marketing campaign that misrepresents organic production, until now.” ??? You have to admit Chipotle’s Scarecrow campaign was pretty unethical! How about the New MacDonald abuse of children? I think you need to look harder – the organic industry lobby has been built on misrepresentation and fear campaigns. They should suffer the same advertising restrictions as tobacco!

  2. So, ‘Organic producers believe in science too.’, – really ?!
    I agree with your main theme, organic is a marketing proposition first and foremost. However, being an accomplice in the first instance, organic farming now has lost its right to tie itself to science-based modern agriculture.

  3. Not an organic grower, but with friends like this, they don’t need any enemies. Never heard of Clif Bars, but this video is more suited to late night TV comedy shows. The manure smoothies made me wonder at first if they were trying to annoy everyone producing food. Maybe I’m out of touch with “social media”, but I say ” much ado about not very much”.

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