In stunning news coming out of Des Moines, Iowa, the Pork Board announced that it is retiring the beloved "The Other White Meat" slogan in favor of . . . wait for it . . . "Pork: Be Inspired."
. . . sorry, I nodded off for a moment there.
I do sort of feel sorry for the marketing guys at the Pork Board, since coming up with a slogan to replace the quarter-century-old "The Other White Meat" is a pretty tall order. The tag line ranks as one of the most successful product slogans in marketing history. A study by Northwestern University's School of Integrated & Marketing in 2000 showed it to be the 5th most recognized slogan in the country. It probably doesn't help that after two decades it had become so integrated into the American consciousness that, despite legal efforts of the Pork Board to protect its brand, its primary use today seems to be as the fodder for jokesters' t-shirts (like, "Cat: the Other White Meat", and others even less tasteful.)
But, despite the cultural penetration of "The Other White Meat" as a slogan, for pork sales it hasn't seem to do much of anything. The Pork Board's VP of marketing, in the hoopla around the rebranding, told the Associated Press that the famous slogan "stemmed a decline" in pork consumption but now times have changed and consumption remains flat. Stats from the U. S. Department of Agriculture (see graph below) suggest that those sales have been flat for a long time.
What's not noted in all the recent media pick ups of this marketing story is that "Be Inspired" isn't the first attempt to re-energize the pork brand. Six years ago the Pork Board announced that it was phasing out "The Other White Meat" in favor of a new campaign: "Don't Be Blah," which sought to cast pork as the exciting alternative to boring old dinner fare like tuna and chicken and to win over new consumers, especially women in the 25-49 age demographic (see a good NY Times summary here).
This time around, the Pork Board is going back to its base. Noting that 28% of American households make up for 70% of the at-home pork consumption, they're looking to get those loyal pig-eaters to incorporate it into more meals. The "Don't Be Blah" campaign downplayed the meat itself, focusing on people and lifestyle instead. In the reboot, they're getting back to the food itself, with print ads showing a pulled pork sandwich piled high on a bun and a freshly sliced roasted pork loin (see examples on the campaign's official website).
While I have to say this new approach sounds more likely to succeed, it's hard to miss the irony. After all, here's an industry that self-consciously bred pigs to be leaner and grow ready to slaughter faster and, at the same time, used a remarkably successful campaign to convince people that pork is really a lot more like chicken than beef. And now they're spending millions of dollars to convince consumers that their products aren't boring.
A quick side-by-side taste test of a pork chop or roast from the typical factory-farmed pig against one from a pasture-raised heritage breed like Tamworth or Berkshire shows the remarkable difference between today's "white" meat and the good old-fashioned red kind. Today's pigs have an estimated 50% less fat than pigs of the 1950s, which may have seemed like a good idea back when beef was getting shellacked by nutritionists for its high saturated fat. But, even though beef sales have declined consistently since 1970, Americans still eat a lot more of it each year than they do pork.
Here's a modest proposal to help spike those flat pork sales numbers: make it taste good again. That might help Americans be inspired to eat more of it.