Viral Old MacDonald Video Hits Sour Note With Farmers

Mar 12, 2015

A new ad from a consortium of large organic companies is stirring up controversy among farmers.
Credit Only Organic / YouTube

Nothing conjures bucolic, pastoral farm imagery like a group of kids singing along to “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.” You know the words: He has a farm and on that farm he has some animals. E-I-E-I-O.

The nursery rhyme is iconic. It rouses a certain kind of nostalgia. Tamper with the formula to stir up some emotions, and you’re begging for a slugfest.

That’s exactly what happened when Only Organic, a group made up of some of the country’s largest organic food companies like Earthbound Farm and Organic Valley, released an ad on YouTube called “New MacDonald.” It starts as innocently as the childrens’ song, but quickly takes a dark turn, showing a staged farm flooded with pesticide spray, genetically-engineered corn made of papier-mache and stuffed farm animals in cages.

Predictably, the video went viral. The ad is easy to understand and fits into a narrative long in the making: that conventional farmers are irresponsible with chemicals, cruel to animals and flippant about the environment. Plus, kids are cute, and everyone knows the tune.

But most farmers, organic ones included, hate that narrative and are ready to dismantle it on social media at a moment’s notice. When Only Organic rolled out the campaign during a Twitter chat Wednesday, the farmer response was swift, continuing a new tradition of brands seeing their curated conversations and crafted hashtags hijacked and mocked.

In these types of Twitter chats you end up with a few different tacks. Some prefer to challenge the factual claims. Others choose to make fun. Others despair, especially in this case because the ad used the mouths of babes to spread the message.

Still others prefer to take the long view, in a somewhat cynical way.

And others take a more blunt tone.

Does the old mantra “any press is good press” still apply in the era of Twitter? In the end, Only Organic got a bunch of people to issue thousands of tweets about their ad, getting more eyeballs on the divisive YouTube video (up to nearly a million views, at last check). And they’re more than ready to brag about it.