BRANDING THE BLACK
AMERICAN ANGUS ASSOCIATION RAISES THE BAR OF BEEF BREED ADVERTISING
by Debbie Coakley, Contributing Editor
For commercial beef cattle producers, the color of money may well be black, if they embrace the messages in the latest advertising campaign from the American Angus Association.
The association's new approach is part of a branding strategy to capitalize on the equity of a single attribute - the black color of the Angus breed. The campaign kicked off in October 2001.
"The campaign positions the Angus breed and services of the association as providing cattle producers the best opportunity to maximize profit potential," says Nick Nicholson, chief creative officer of Kansas City, Mo.-based NKH&W Inc., which created the campaign. "We centered the visual around one element - the shiny, black Angus hide. We wanted to take full advantage of being able to own the black color in this category."
Brian McCulloh, who served on the association's public relations committee during the campaign's creation, points out that while producers instantly associate the black hide with Angus cattle, there's a lot more to the story. "We are differentiating Angus cattle, the Angus database and the genetic predictions derived from it," says McCulloh, managing partner of Woodhill Farms, a registered Angus seedstock operation in southwest Wisconsin.
He adds that it's more important than ever to inform commercial producers that they can use Angus genetics with confidence. "There is a perception that black-hided animals are worth more," McCulloh explains. "This creates a unique communications challenge because Angus must differentiate itself from lookalikes."
McCulloh cites a fall 2001 study by Drovers magazine, which reveals that commercial cow/calf producers rank color or breed as the No. 2 trait they consider when selecting a bull. No. 1 is calving ease or birth weight.
The ultimate goal of the ad campaign is to influence commercial beef cattle producers to integrate more Angus genetics into their herd, which allows Angus breeders to sell more registered Angus bulls and females, says Susan Rhode, director of public relations and communications for the American Angus Association. "Angus-based genetics are responsible for more than 60 percent of the commercial cattle population in the United States," she notes.
Headquartered in St. Joseph, Mo., the American Angus Association serves thousands of commercial producers and more than 36,000 regular and junior members across the United States. "The association records more cattle each year than any other beef breed association, making it the largest beef breed organization in the world," Rhode says. In 2001, registrations of Angus cattle totaled 271,206.
The American Angus Association has had an extensive national advertising program for many years. Those ads served the association well during their tenure, Rhode says, but business and breeding demands on commercial producers called for a revised strategy. "We were looking for a new, fresh look in breed advertising," she points out.
To develop a new campaign, the association turned to NKH&W, which had handled its media planning and strategy for many years. The agency started its new assignment by attending a meeting of the association's public relations committee, which outlined key initiatives commercial breeders would face during the coming year.
"Then we completed our creative blueprint, a proprietary, strategic tool we use to develop concepts for campaigns," says Doug Reynolds, senior account executive with NKH&W. "We realized we needed to have an overarching message for the individual points the board wanted to address. That message was profitability."
During the creative team's planning, the highly recognizable black color of Angus seemed obvious. "Of all agricultural companies and associations, few can truly claim brand ownership of a color," Reynolds relates. "Because Angus owns black, we wanted to take it and incorporate it to its best advantage."
The agency developed four ad concepts ranging from conservative to abstract and presented them to the association's public relations committee. "We ended with the black hide campaign, which was the most edgy and brand-focused approach," Nicholson explains.
He adds that Jim Haynes, senior art director, and Carl Hertel, senior copywriter, were instrumental in developing the message and look. "More important, they conveyed the significance of the campaign from a strategic viewpoint to the agency and Angus staff as well," Nicholson says. "This helps ensure the right message reaches targeted commercial producers."
Rhode recalls that while the five public relations committee members were impressed with the final concept, it took a while to let it soak in. "Some committee members were a harder sell than others. But they were impressed with the ads and ready to take a leap of faith to make an impact on our target audience."
The unifying element in the five print ads is the black hide, while the underlying theme is profitability. Each single-page ad focuses on a particular area and sports a catchy headline:
• Genetics - Profit in the Black Market.
• Cows - The Real Black Beauty is a Cow.
* Bulls - The Color of Money.
• Certified Angus Beef® - Your Entire Herd Should be Blacklisted.
• Beef Record Service - Get in Our Little Black Book.
Campaign elements include the print series in beef verticals, radio spots on state networks, Internet banner ads and a four-page advertorial in beef verticals. Association public relations efforts complement the campaign, which kicked off Oct. 1 and runs mainly through March.
"The overall cost to produce the campaign was relatively reasonable because it's easy to execute from a production standpoint," Reynolds says.
The ads recently took home top honors in two categories - single page ad and a series of single page ads - in Region II of the Best of NAMA Awards program. The ads will advance to the national awards competition honoring the best work in agricultural communications.
While no pretesting or post-testing was done, the association's public relations committee and board of directors' stamp of approval showed that the campaign was the way to go.
Rhode says the association members are confident that the new look and message are right for the target audience. "We also realized this campaign is somewhat edgy for our industry. But we thought it was our duty to take a chance, make a statement with our advertising and remind the beef industry that Angus is the leading breed."
McCulloh, who continues as a member of the association's board of directors, notes that most beef breed ads show a cow in a profile or head-on shot. "The dominant black background of the new Angus ads has stopping power," he explains. "People will look at an ad, wonder what it is and then read the copy. When they read on, they'll find out Angus is about more than the black hide." AM
Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.