Smoke and mirrors

Oatly CEO Toni Petersson sings ‘Wow, wow, no cow’ in the 30-second ad spot during the Super Bowl Sunday evening. It was filmed in 2014 in Sweden where the commercial is legally banned from airing. Screenshot

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Feb. 12, 2021

EAST EARL, Pa. – Some are calling it the worst commercial of this year’s Super Bowl, others say it was so bad, it could be the most memorable. The 30-second ad aired over most of the nation in the second quarter of the game. It was filmed in Sweden in 2014 and ultimately banned from airing in Sweden, where the Oatly brand of fake-milk beverage originated.

The ad seen by millions during the Super Bowl depicted Oatly CEO Toni Petersson singing in the middle of a field of oats (some believe the crop looked more like soybeans but that is beside the point). 

Donning a T-shirt with the words “No artificial badness,” Petersson played an electric piano with a carton of Oatly and a poured glass of the oat beverage atop, singing: “It’s like milk, but made for humans. Wow, wow, no cow. No, no, no. Wow, wow, no cow.”

At another point in the Super Bowl, TurboTax ran its #taxfacts ad showing a man on a computer screen atop a rolling desk going from one scene and tax-related question to another. As the singing computer face atop the desk rolls through a herd of beef cows, we hear the words: “In some places they tax flatulence, like the kind that comes from cows,” (followed by the sound of a fart). Just a couple seconds of the 30-second spot completely unrelated to cows and reality subtly reinforces and normalizes the myth that cow flatulence is taxable because it’s a climate-thing, when it is actually, factually and mathematically insignificant as a climate thing.

Seriously, stop the madness. And, as always, the lack of a television presence for milk and dairy farmers leaves silence as the answer.

One thing is clear: Dairy farmers once again find themselves on the losing end of a long-term ‘partnership’ with the National Football League.

By his own admission, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher says the checkoff has been working through its partnerships over the past 12 to 13 years on the sustainability plan and Net Zero Initiative. Now the rollout dove tails in content and timing with the malarkey coming out of the World Economic Forum Great Reset and its food transformation stalwart the World Wildlife Fund (also known as Worldwide Fund for Nature, WWF).

DMI integrates the industry through its unified marketing plan and the various nonprofit organizations, alliances, committees and initiatives — beginning with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, formed in 2008-09, launching the industry’s structural drivers beginning with the globalization initiative (Bain Study 2008), then social responsibility (FARM program 2015) and now ‘sustainability’ (Net Zero Initiative 2020). Graphic by Sherry Bunting, source USdairy.com

Over those past 12 to 13 years, the direction of promotion has moved off-radar through partnerships. This began with DMI’s creation of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy (known officially to the IRS as the Dairy Center for Strategic Innovation and Collaboration). Within the Innovation Center is the Sustainability Initiative headed by Mike McCloskey over the past 12 to 13 years and known officially as listed on IRS 990 forms as Global Dairy Platform.

Yes, it is all so very confusing. An entire new structure for the dairy industry and its farm-to-table supply chain has been created, along with sustainability parameters and promotion partnerships, within these non-profits under the DMI umbrella.

DMI’s umbrella of tax-exempt organizations where checkoff dollars flow and bring partners into the picture to “work on shared priorities.”

Cutting through to the point here is this: Dairy farmers have continually asked their dairy checkoff leaders over the past 12 to 13 years why television ads are seldom, if ever, seen; why those that are seen air at off hours; why the NFL’s reference to Play 60 never includes the “Fuel up” part. The milk is always absent from the promotion on the NFL side.

Whenever these questions are asked at meetings or on conference calls, dairy checkoff leaders say – in unison – “television ads don’t work” and “the NFL owns Play 60, but we own the Fuel Up and can use the Fuel Up to Play 60. Yes, the flagship program of GENYOUth.

Meanwhile, milk’s competitors are using television ads. All the beverage competition is using television ads. Granted, the checkoff budget is not large enough to put all of its eggs into the television ad basket, but surely a few well-placed prime time ads – like in the Super Bowl – would generate ongoing exposure. Those ads get rated, replayed and talked about for weeks.

Here’s the thing: Each year, DMI lists the NFL among its top five independent contractors on its IRS 990 form showing $4 to $6 million annually in checkoff funds is paid to NFL Properties for “promotion.”

In the recently acquired 2019 IRS 990 form, DMI listed just over $6 million to NFL Properties.

By comparison, the cost of a 30-second television spot during the prime-time Super Bowl for 2021 was $5.5 million. Perhaps the over $6 million handed over to the NFL would have been better spent buying 30 seconds of airtime to promote milk and dairy.

After all, DMI can’t even answer the question asked by farmers or media who have inquired about what the money paid to the NFL is actually for. This question was asked face-to-face last March at a Q&A meeting on a farm with DMI chair Marilyn Hershey and UDIA executive vice president Lucas Lentsch. They did not answer it. They scratched their heads and acted as though they didn’t know that kind of money was paid to the NFL. They said they would ask. This reporter has also asked the question. No answers have been forthcoming.

Here’s the other deal. It was 12 to 13 years ago that GENYOUth was created with the official name as it appears on tax forms: Youth Improved Incorporated. That saga began with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by then USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the NFL and the National Dairy Council, along with GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick. She was suggested for the spot by worldwide communications firm Edelman. (Edelman does the PR work for Oatly, is engaged with the NFL and also with PepsiCo. Edelman also received over $16 million for promotion from DMI in 2019 and similar amounts in each of the previous four years as DMI’s all-in-one PR firm, creator of Undeniably Dairy.)

Since that 2009 MOU signing, we have seen fancy New York City Gala events explained as a way for GENYOUth to raise funds for school breakfast carts and to give dairy farm checkoff leaders the chance to rub elbows and talk with ‘thought leaders.’ Meanwhile, GENYOUth is the vehicle to make students ‘agents of change’ for ‘planetary diets’.

We have seen PepsiCo – the NFL’s real long-term beverage partner – come on-board the GENYOUth bus, even receiving a major GENYOUth award in 2018, with just a $1 million one-off investment next to the over $4 million spent every year since inception by DMI to keep the GENYOUth vehicle running — not to mention salaries and other soft costs not parsed-out on tax forms. We have seen a proliferation of PepsiCo branded products on breakfast carts and in school cafeterias next to fat-free and low-fat milk and dairy offerings.

And at this year’s Super Bowl pre-game festivities, DMI excitedly reported that GENYOUth would have the honor of hosting the “Taste of NFL” in the virtual pandemic environment and using the event to “raise money for children to get their school meals.”

Throughout the Taste of NFL pre-game session last week, GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick was promoting the PepsiCo-product-filled thank you boxes for donators. In one video appearance, she stated, offhand, that she’ll have to go get her milk, but never did. There was no milk in the scene, just a small plate of cheese and fruit off to the side and a large zoom lens focused on the PepsiCo Super Bowl box.

Promotion time – and money — wasted.

But checkoff leaders say it’s okay because all of this is for a good cause! The GENYOUth bus full of boarders focused on one thing, raising money for hungry children.

While it’s true that the NFL ran an ad this football season talking about partnering with America’s dairy farmers to raise money to feed hungry kids. Those commercials were only seen by this reporter during pre-game interviews, not during actual games and nothing of the sort ran on Super Bowl night. The closest thing to it was the NFL’s celebration of essential workers at the start of the game, where glimpses of farmers, truckers, and store staff stocking shelves were included among the photos and videos of medical personel.

As for NFL’s big beverage partner, PepsiCo, the CEO of its North American division, Albert Carey, was presented with the GENYOUth Vanguard award at the 2018 Gala, he stated that the company had long admired the Play 60 program of the NFL and wanted to be part of it. — Now PepsiCo has a new joint venture with Beyond Meat to produce and market ‘alternative protein’ snacks and beverages.

Yes, the cross-purposes and proprietary partnerships make the whole scene confusing.

Dairy farmers are good hearted people. Of course, they want to be part of efforts to feed hungry children and to help America’s youth be well and have access to good nutrition. But even this worthy goal has been wrestled right out of their hands by the other ‘partner’ in the three-way MOU – the USDA and its flawed Dietary Guidelines that inform regulations that smile on Mountain Dew Kickstart offerings in schools and prohibit whole milk.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Dairy transformation has been in the works for 12 to 13 years through the proprietary partnerships working ‘pre-competitively’ within the vehicles constructed with mandatory farmer funds under the DMI umbrella.

It is all smoke and mirrors. So much of what has gone on for these 12 to 13 years is just now becoming evident as the smoke clears, and producers can see they have indeed been funding their own demise.

Time to get back to the drawing board.

-30-

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