Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.

That State Farm ad the other day has got me thinking about the great ones of the last 40 years.

Whoever it was that put together Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” from Rodeo with that great American staple of beef must rank among the advertising geniuses of our day. Do they even know that some joining, or a comparison, or some ad copy will become an ad campaign that everyone remembers for years? How can you listen to Hoedown and [not] expect to hear Robert Mitchum in the background, encouraging you fix yourself a juicy beef steak sandwich? Heck, even Steak-umms would do.

The original Hoedown, without the voice overs:

The music calls to mind the wide open plains of the American West. Cattle country. Page 18 and 19 of the new-style U.S. passport. The Beef Board, which I think used to be called the Beef Marketing Board, needed a campaign to make people want to eat beef. Throughout the 1980’s, they had used actor James Garner and assorted others to do an ad featuring beef as “real food for real people”. But that’s kind of lame, isn’t it? The problem wasn’t that people were avoiding beef because it wasn’t real food. It was that chicken and other “leaner” meats were real food, too, and people felt those other ones were healthier.

Then, in ’92, the Beef Board switched agencies, to Leo Burnett. The new campaign went straight to emotion: the pleasure people feel eating beef. The Beef Board’s message went from theoretical proposition (what is real food) to outright statement: we all enjoy eating beef, and so we should enjoy it. They got an authoritative baritone, Robert Mitchum. to do the voiceover, and the music, as I said, called to mind the vast cattle ranges of our great land.

The catch on many of the ads is that it didn’t take a lot of time to cook beef, either. So not only is it tasty, it’s convenient. People are, by make up, meat eaters, (even though it’s clear that our ancestors mainly ate vegetables.) So the authoritative voice in the ad says, “go ahead, have it”.

You would never find a campaign like that in Japan. For one, I think the government is more cautious about encouraging people to eat for pleasure, since Japan has to import food. But even if the Fish Board of Japan, or the Whale Board, got into the act, the style and the feelings the ad would try to reach would be totally different. It would have more to do with how eating the fish or whale brings us into a greater harmony with life. There would be an appeal to ancient tradition. The joy would be from the fish AND some situation, or the whale AND more things. The Beef ads focus on families and get togethers very explicitly; I think a Japanese version would simply keep that as background. And nothing about time or schedules.

Hoedown would never work if you were trying to sell fish.