BEST OF SHOW ADVERTISING
BREAKING THROUGH THE ODOR BARRIER
Compiled by Agri Marketing Editors
Start with one lingering problem for pork producers. Add an amazing solution from an unexpected source. Throw in local dealers throughout the upper Midwest reaching thousands of producers. What do you have?
A breath of fresh air.
THE NOSE KNOWS
Barrier®, a soy-based odor mitigation product from Agriliance, had an unusual beginning - in Bob Herzfeld’s backyard. Herzfeld, Agriliance marketing manager, was testing prototype crop-based adjuvants developed as part of a grant from the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and soybean grower associations. As he sprayed the prototype on some pesky brush, he noticed something remarkable: no 2,4-D smell.
Was the adjuvant somehow affecting odor emissions? To test his theory, Herzfeld and Joe Gednalske, a production development specialist with Agriliance, did a number of tests. Sure enough, the adjuvant was suppressing odor.
They knew immediately that they were onto something big. After filing for a patent, Herzfeld and Gednalske began exploring the world of possibilities offered by this product - soon to be named Barrier.
BREAKING INTO A TOUGH MARKET
Agriliance is the agronomy marketing joint venture formed in early 2000 by Farmland Industries, Cenex Harvest States Cooperatives and Land O’Lakes Inc. As part of a major cooperative system, the development team soon found other internal champions for their quest for valuable applications for Barrier. One of those champions, Paul Rhein, who headed up Agriliance’s crop protection division (and has since retired) helped identify a pressing problem in livestock production: hog odor.
With consolidation and increasing herd sizes in pork production, the industry has faced significant pressure from rural communities to reduce the amount of odors emanating from pork production facilities. While some remedies exist - aeration, solids separation and treatment, etc. - they are expensive and not practical for most producers.
To make matters worse, hog prices were at historic lows. Many pork producers were focused on simply staying in business.
But the benefits were real and desire for change was in the air.
BARRIER MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Three years of research on independent farms and at universities has proven that Barrier reduces odors and emissions in hog facilities. In fact, with Barrier applied to deep pits, emissions of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia - significant players in odorous emissions - dropped 75 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
"Testing in different hog facilities with varying ventilation systems and diverse environmental conditions has shown that Barrier consistently provides significant odor reduction," confirms Mark Schoenfeld, product manager for Barrier. "Barrier improves odor and air quality by reducing the odor that emanates from the manure pit."
A liquid, Barrier is poured directly on top of stored manure, creating a physical barrier that seals in gases. Barrier is sold in handy 2.5-gallon jugs and should be reapplied monthly or shortly after emptying a storage facility. It has no adverse effects on people or pigs, the manure when used as fertilizer or the soil when applied. And it’s kind to manure pumping and application equipment.
The marketing challenge came in creating demand for this product, which could be considered too good to be true, says Annette Degnan, Agriliance director of advertising and communications, who’s based in Inver Grove Heights, Minn. "There were other odor-control products out there, but most of them simply didn’t work. The category had absolutely no credibility. Something like this had never been done before, but would be measured by the producers’ common-sense gauge that says if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
"But we knew we had a cool product," she adds, "with tremendous opportunity."
IN PRODUCERS’ SHOES
To start the branding and communicating process in early 2000, Degnan turned to the Agriliance marketing communications partner Colle+McVoy, Minneapolis, to help shape Barrier’s brand identity, then reach out to audiences.
"We started by talking with people who raised hogs and people who worked with those producers," explains Annette Bertelsen, Colle+McVoy creative director. "Our Connect. Compel. process - the basis for our strategic creative work - involves learning exactly what the audience is facing and how this product could impact their daily lives. They talked about things like not being able to escape the odor from their pork production facilities, even in their cars and trucks. We heard producers say that when you learn to accept the odor as an inevitable part of the job, then you never quite escape the stigma the odor creates. And we heard them say they were looking for solutions, too."
When you’re dealing with manure and its odor, Bertelsen adds, it’s only natural to explore humorous creative approaches. "We worked hard to achieve a tone that wouldn’t offend pork producers, local dealers or rural residents. But one that would connect with their very real experiences related to hog odor."
The advertising creative was built upon the universal truth that no one likes the smell of hog manure. "We focused on concepts that would effectively telegraph that Barrier helps you escape from the odor," Bertelsen explains. "At the same time, we zeroed in on concepts that would be easily integrated across all disciplines."
"Our strategy needed to revolve around talking to other audiences besides pork producers," Degnan says. "A lot of producers were very skeptical from the beginning. And in some cases we knew we’d be talking to people who didn’t think they had a problem. That’s why we used media outlets beyond pork industry trade publications," including Cooperative Partners, the cooperative system’s 32-page magazine that is mailed eight times a year to about 300,000 Class 1A farmers, and Midwestern radio networks.
The resulting Barrier introduction campaign is a combination of national and regional exposure, aimed at pork producers and soybean growers, and local promotional materials provided to dealers for use at their discretion.
A fun, friendly and simple icon - a pig-shaped pink air freshener - was the focal point of the print campaign and served as a tangible and pleasant-smelling reminder of Barrier’s benefits.
For dealers, a promotional box was developed to provide all the tools they would need to promote Barrier locally and capitalize on Barrier’s business-building - and goodwill-generating - value. Beginning with "Pork producers are about to breathe a little easier" and an air freshener on the outside, each dealer opened a large blue box to find more air fresheners, tri-fold brochures, statement stuffers, a produced 30-second radio spot, black-and-white ad slicks, a copy of the national Barrier print ad and media schedule, a sample news release, a rain poncho to provide their own barrier against the elements, and a letter from Schoenfeld introducing Barrier and describing promotional efforts already in place for the remainder of 2000 and 2001.
The air fresheners and the Barrier message made the trade show circuit in January and February 2001 and were in great demand at pork producer association annual trade shows.
Targeted editors received a media kit containing a news release, information about Barrier, product research results, slides showing how Barrier is applied, a pig air freshener and a rain poncho.
"Editors were very interested in Barrier," says Kenna Rathai, the account manager at Colle+McVoy who engineered public relations efforts for the new product. "Barrier was the first naturally based commercial product for this use, and they were quick to see how it could help producers. Because the product was new, we didn’t have a lot of testimonials to lead with, but we were able to provide third-party research to prove how well Barrier works."
SUPPORTING SOYBEAN DEMAND
Barrier’s secondary feature - as a byproduct of soybean processing - was a point-maker with several key audiences. "Barrier adds value to soybeans with an innovative solution," says Scott Kington, Colle+McVoy account manager who headed up Barrier advertising efforts. "We didn’t want to overdramatize that, but it was a message that resonated with soybean growers." Agriliance calculations show that if Barrier were used in 10 percent of the U.S. barns that contain finishing pigs, soybean demand would increase by almost 60 million bushels annually.
"Communicating that this unique value-added solution had been developed by the cooperative system was critical," Degnan agrees. "We wanted all the audiences to know that a producer-owned cooperative system was behind this product."
A NEW SALES APPROACH
For the Agriliance field force - experienced agronomy salespeople - the prospect of selling Barrier to local dealers took a new approach. "It wasn’t a chemical," Degnan says. "They had to figure out how to sell it in a horribly depressed hog market. And the promise of taking odor out of the system by itself isn’t enough for pork producers, especially when they’re not rewarded financially for it."
A sales presentation binder helped educate the field force on Barrier’s features and benefits, and provided application guidelines and troubleshooting recommendations. The presentation could be used in one-on-one presentations or adapted for producer and other large-group meetings.
Education on what Barrier could and could not do was essential. Degnan emphasizes the desire to not overpromise. "So many factors are involved in odor management," Degnan says. "Barrier is not the cure-all to odor concerns. But it does help. Many producers have told us Barrier has helped them feel better about the air quality in their buildings and they’re glad to be able to do something about odors. It’s a solution they can feel good about using."
READY FOR FUTURE NEEDS
In the future, Degnan adds, demand for Barrier could come from other industries (the dairy industry, for example) or in response to the need to improve indoor air quality. Previous university research has shown conclusively that pigs raised with better air quality grow faster and have fewer health problems. And regulations are already in place in many industries governing air quality for employees. Hydrogen sulfide and ammonia are two of the gases that are monitored in those situations. "From a worker safety standpoint, we may find additional markets for a product like Barrier," Degnan says.