Competitors unite to convey organic foods' advantage

The organic food industry does not get the same attention as the world's major food brands. In fact, it's often considered a niche market by mainstream media.

The organic food industry does not get the same attention as the world's major food brands. In fact, it's often considered a niche market by mainstream media.

But for the 35th anniversary of Earth Day, alternative marketing firm MusicMatters, which specializes in natural industries, wanted individuals to realize that organic food is good for both them and the environment.

"This was a campaign that had to break out of the traditional place of organic foods and go mainstream," says Paul Maccabee, president of Maccabee Group, the PR firm retained by MusicMatters to promote the campaign, dubbed Go! Organic for Earth Day. "The goal [was to have] people purchase organic food as part of their regular, daily routine."

Strategy

The campaign focused on how a diverse group of competitors- including 45 organic food brands and 20 supermarket chains - were banding together to support a common cause.

"When we made the supermarket trade press ... the reason they were interested is because competitors generally do not work together," Maccabee says.
The effort also relied on key influencers, including scientists, teachers, and environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, to promote the cause.

Carefully crafted messages were shaped around research compiled by the National Marketing Institute. Surveys showed that only 30% of respondents trust the government to regulate pesticides in food, while 44% want organic options in school cafeterias (compared with the 0.05% of cafeterias that offer them).

"We used the research as data points that supported the communication strategy," says Michael Martin, president of MusicMatters' organic and natural experience division.

Messages played to the desire for natural food choices, without crossing the line into scare mongering, like playing into the fears around pesticides and genetically modified foods.

"We couldn't come off too stridently," explains Martin. "People don't want to be told that the food they've been eating their whole life is hurting them. We did sort of a friendly, healthy, positive approach."

Tactics

Due to the tight turnaround of the campaign, the PR team had missed the opportunity to pitch long-lead publications. So it instead relied on the star power of celebrity chef Akasha Richmond, who caters to celebrities like Billy Bob Thornton and Michael Jackson, to successfully place a story with the Associated Press food editor -the longest of long shots, says Maccabee.

Coupon books and action kits were also distributed among schools and stores, and all partners had a strong presence at Earth Day events. In addition, the Earth Day Network helped design a school curriculum for grades K-12 without any product logos. The effort also featured a website and an e-mail sent to hundreds of people in all 50 states featuring animated children asking, "What should we do for Earth Day?"

"It was combining a political campaign, a marketing campaign, and pop culture," says Martin. "We were able to tell a story that was both unique and meaningful."

Results

Post-effort research found that awareness of organic food rose from 65% to 75%, and sales of organic food at participating retailers went up 8%. The website also saw 250,000 hits, and 1,000 consumers called an 800-number to ask for coupon books.

"Our goal was Good Morning America and the major dailies," says Maccabee of two objectives the firm reached. "The results thrilled us because they were mainstream results.

Martin describes the effort as "effect marketing" or "next generation cause marketing."

"I think this is a really exciting model of how to create societal change," he says.

Future

Martin notes that MusicMatters plans to make this an annual campaign. "Our goal with this is to make every April ... a time for people to start thinking about organic [products]," he says.

PR team MusicMatters and Maccabee Group (both Minneapolis)
Campaign Go! Organic for Earth Day
Time frame January to April 2005
Budget $650,000

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