I read with interest and amusement the several press accounts talking about the creation of a “pretend” marketing campaign for broccoli. If you haven’t kept up with the coverage, here is the initial coverage in The New York Times Magazine about “Broccoli’s extreme makeover," authored by Michael Moss, a reporter for The Times and the author of ‘‘Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.’’

 I need to read that book, I am told.

 The long article is interesting, framing the story of how the reporter asked the ad agency Victors & Spoils to create a campaign for broccoli that would grab the attention of consumers.

In the end, the agency came up with provocative ads like “What came first, kale or the bandwagon?” or “Broccoli: now 43% less pretentious than kale” or “Since when do super foods have to be super trendy?” or “Eat fad free: broccoli v. kale.”

 A Q and A with the author took a closer look at the genesis for the unconventional feature story.

A New York Times video called “Creating the broccoli craze” looks at the creative process of the agency in devising a fictional campaign.

In the initial coverage from the NYT Magazine piece comes this observation about why the marketing team targeted kale - a trendy produce item with a 24k golden halo - instead of potato chips or pop. From the story:

Picking on kale — rather than on, say, French fries — was especially brilliant because it mimicked the Great Soda War between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, an entirely bloodless battle that greatly enhanced the bottom lines of both companies. While consumers assumed Coke and Pepsi were in some sort of zero-sum game, the marketing reality was that the idea of a soda war, and the ads created to perpetuate it, brought many more consumers to both companies.

Later the author weighed the feasibility of actually launching such a campaign. From the NYT Magazine piece:

The agency estimated that the total cost of their campaign would be between $3 million and $7 million, including advertising fees, if they were to execute it for real — well within the proposed budget for the produce industry. When the presentation was over, Putman said, “You could put this in the marketplace, and sales would go up.” Whether that’s true is debatable, because who can know in advance whether an ad campaign will strike the right nerve? What’s not debatable is that the messaging that has been tried for years has not moved the needle in terms of Americans’ eating habits. What the Victors & Spoils team was proposing at least made it seem as if produce could get into the game. What effect that might have on all the other factors that determine consumers’ habits and farmers’ incentives and U.S. agriculture policy was at least something to be optimistically considered.


Industry marketers should also look at the some 207 reader comments to the NYT Magazine piece:


Brilliant, said one:

What a great article. As a marketing consultant and advertising professional, a story about a great guerrilla advertising campaign will always peak my attention. The fact that it’s about, of all things, BROCCOLI...Well, that REALLY peaked my interest. The numbers quoted - only 5% of Americans under 50 are eating the right amounts of vegetables- is also quite surprising, considering the success of stores like Whole Foods and the large spaces big mass and other stores dedicate to produce! The broccoli campaign is genius; kudos to Victors & Spoils!


Another wasn't convinced such a campaign would work:

For those of us who don’t like broccoli, its not a matter of how it looks, the marketing or anything other than that we hate how it tastes! And smells! Good campaign though.


Another said broccoli would come up short in comparison with kale:

OK so I Googled it as they suggest and kale has more potassium, protein, vitamins A and C (by huge margins), more calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin b6. It also tastes 1000 times better, is more easily incorporated into dishes (broccoli takes over)... Why are they picking a fight with kale?


One reader bristled at the infighting:


So typical of the advertising industry to slam one vegetable while promoting another. Why? Kale is not a brand made by one corporation and Broccoli another. Many farmers grow both.

Wasn’t the point of this whole thing to promote something healthy? And the only way they could figure out to do it was to bash something else...healthy? Fail. FAIL!



Consumers who can appreciate a little irony may take to such a “broccoli v. kale” ad campaign. Since the produce industry has never been that good about coming together and spending big bucks on generic promotion campaigns, a family squabble between broccoli or kale could grab the attention of consumers. If not broccoli versus kale, what about apples versus oranges? A possible opening volley: “You call that red delicious? I’ll show you orange scrumptious."

Yes, and that's why I don't work at an ad agency.

Even more ingenious: marketers of niche varieties of apples could set up Pepsi v. Coke taste test, with consumers being pushed to help decide the victor. The spotlight would ramp up the attention to all niche varieties.

I would feel better (if less ironical and bemused) if the produce industry would turn its fresh fruit and vegetable marketing guns against junk food, but in the absence of the tens of millions of dollars necessary to accomplish that goal, perhaps this interparty pretend feud could be productive and entertaining.



I know many readers watch The Voice, am I right? Elizabeth Pivonka said in an e-mail note that Matthew Schuler, son of Produce for Better Health Foundation employee Don Schuler, is in the final 20 in that competition.

“We just want to share how proud we are (and encourage everyone to vote for him!!!),” Pivonka said in a e-mail this morning.

Check out clips of Matthew Schuler here and here.