In a world that's getting smarter, why do advertisers insist on treating farmers like idiots?

I’ve always loved this quotation from advertising legend David Ogilvy from his 1963 book, Confessions of an Advertising Man.

Sure, it’s of its time, but the sentiment is timeless and one that is especially pertinent in advertising to Aotearoa’s rural community. By which I mean we could equally say: “Farmers are not morons. They’re multi-million dollar business owners.”

Ogilvy made his remark in response to typical advertising practices of the early 1950s, which featured loud, hectoring voices and blatantly exaggerated print. He believed that adverts should be delivered in a softer and more sympathetic tone, treating the customer as intelligent and capable of seeing through blatant hype.

I make my remark in response to rural advertising practices of the 2020s that feature visual clichés, cringe-worthy puns and a prevalence of telling farmers ‘how to suck eggs’. Like the very wise Mr Ogilvy, I too believe that we should treat the customer as intelligent and capable of thinking.

So, why is so much advertising to our farming community dumbed down?

There are several reasons:

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know – put your advertising in the hands of an agency without any rural credentials and they’ll resort to clichés and broad generalisations because they haven’t spent the time to get ‘under the skin’ of real Kiwi farmers
  2. A lack of true insights – spend time talking with farmers and you’ll get a very clear picture of what keeps them up at night, what excites them, and what they need from their trusted advisors and suppliers to maintain a sustainable business. You won’t find these insights doing a Google search.
  3. Fear – moving beyond the obvious, challenging the status quo and producing truly disruptive work that gets noticed takes bravery. To quote another advertising great, George Lois, “…the solution to each new problem or challenge should begin with a blank canvas and an open mind, not with the nervous borrowings of other people’s mediocrities”. Brave clients, those not content to follow the crowd, are a rare breed.
  4. Budgets – effective advertising campaigns require an investment of time, resources and, of course, money. The old adage of ‘Fast, good or cheap – pick two’ applies here.

We need to respect the massive contribution agriculture makes to our economy (approximately $10.6 billion to the GDP) through the hard work and dedication our farming community. That means talking to them in a way that recognises them as the smart, innovative business owners and employers they are. And we need to do it in a fresh, intelligent and engaging way.

At Tracta, our depth of understanding of the sector, and our ability to engage with farmers is proven and unmatched in Australasia. Our work breaks the rural mould by being grounded in true insights, supported by well-considered strategy, and delivered in fresh and creative ways that ignite interest.

Because, farmers are not morons. They’re multi-million dollar business owners who like to be challenged and entertained. Thanks David Ogilvy.

Tracta | Champions of Agribusiness - Rural Specialist

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