Pulse Beat Individual Articles

Gwyneth Paltrow, Celebrity Chefs and the Role of Influencers in Agriculture

Toban Dyck, Writer and Farmer – Spring 2022 Pulse Beat

 I’LL ADMIT. I have a lot to say when it comes to “influencers.” If you’ve never heard the term, perhaps you should consider yourself lucky, stop reading this and move on to the next Pulse Beat article. Don’t do that. Trust me. I’ve got something to share with you.

The idea is simple: organizations like Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers, or its national sibling, Pulse Canada, identify a handful of people on social media who are respected, have large followings and who are outspoken champions of, say, in this case, pulses.

These individuals are then contracted to promote a certain product, use a certain hash tag, make a certain dish to their respective audiences in the hope that doing so will further the organization’s or industry’s goals.

Many agricultural groups use influencers as a key part of their lobbying efforts. Pulse Canada is utilizing a stable of social media influencers, including chefs and dietitians, to help their consumer-based campaigns aimed at getting more Canadians to eat pulses.

Great. Simple, you say. This kind of stuff is done all of the time, you say. While you are correct that marketing is not a new concept and the idea behind harnessing the persuasive power celebrities seem to have in order to achieve various gains is as old as the printing press. However, the term “influencer” and how these people are used in the industry is not uncontroversial.

The agricultural industry is bent on improving its ability to communicate its messages to the public, farmers, politicians and other stakeholders. Contracting influencers to deliver these messages is an attractive option when a campaign’s success is determined by audience reach, video views and/or social media engagement.

The metrics surrounding these influencer-driven campaigns are usually high and difficult to interpret. High numbers are impressive and make for an easy sell. Many people, who may feel an apprehension about such campaigns in their gut, feel too intimidated to speak out against initiatives that, on the surface, seem positive. Perspective is important — 10 decision-makers is better than 100 casual observers. Numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s gripes against genetically modified crops are well known. And presumably they’ve affected how some people eat and shop. Christopher Walken cast as Percy Schmeiser in the 2020 film Percy, which chronicles a Saskatchewan farmer’s fight with Monsanto, ensured the movie’s widespread distribution.

When messages that get things wrong hijack the airwaves, the agricultural industry is confronted with a choice: does it fight fire with fire and find its own celebrities to combat what it considers mis- or dis-information? Or, does it believe that the extension of research and science alone, without expensive celebrity endorsements, is enough to drive policy and consumer trends?

It gets murky. Many of us working in the ag industry would like to believe that data, science, research and just plain old hard facts provide the most solid foundation, from which effective policy can be developed and from which public support can be attained. I am in this camp. Or, at least, I was in this camp.

I recently worked on a national campaign that required the coming together of a diverse cross-section of groups under a singular cause that affected them all. I did not use influencers, believing this to be a foolish way to spend money.

Instead, I tried to go at it alone, utilizing old-school methods of message distribution, like newspapers, magazines, etcetera.

About three-quarters of the way through, I reluctantly reached to an influencer. Her response was quick and constructive. She immediately had great ideas for the campaign, in general. Her suggestions were tangible and intuitive. Their effectiveness seemed obvious to me. I wasn’t expecting this. It skewed my impression of influencers towards the positive. Had I been in contact earlier, the campaign would have undoubtedly reached a larger audience.

As a farmer, you may find yourself either viewing such a campaign in the ag space or deciding whether or not to go green-light one. Keep your eyes and mind open. A large audience isn’t the same as an engaged audience, nor is it the same as the right audience. But, the influencer I chatted with changed my mind. And I’m pretty stubborn. ■