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.
— Dykstra Dame (@DykstraDame) March 1, 2015
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.
— Honey Rowland (@HoneysLife) March 12, 2015
— Tara McIntosh (@Tara_L_Mc) March 9, 2015
I find it ironic that #NewMacDonald bashes Big Ag but gives a pass to the multi-billion dollar Big Organic.
— Jim Smith, Ph.D. (@JimSmith87) March 12, 2015
Few people in the food movement grasp what it means to the farmers to be so devalued and dehumanized by big biz in #NewMacDonald campaign
— NYFarmer (@NYFarmer) March 12, 2015
— Rob Wallbridge (@songberryfarm) March 12, 2015
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.
In the end,the only winners in these "food fights" are marketing companies& brands ...not the farmers...or consumers #Newmacdonald
— Leah McGrath, RDN (@LeahMcGrathRD) March 12, 2015
And others take a more blunt tone.
Spent five minutes cruising through the #NewMacDonald tag. I am now dumber than I was six minutes ago for having embarked on that journey.
— Rob Stone (@rgstone1) March 12, 2015
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.
I’m so grateful for my #NewMacDonald peeps coming out last night! We trended in 15 cities and created over 26 million impressions :)
— Leah Segedie (@bookieboo) March 12, 2015