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female farmer

Land O'Lakes Kicks Off Identity Initiative with an Ode to Female Farmers

Zach Brooke

female farmer

The She-I-O campaign brings attention to the company’s co-op model with a female empowerment message.

Goal

Supermarket standout Land O’Lakes is a brand that needs no introduction. The refrigerated-aisle mainstay has dominated butter sales since its introduction in the 1920s. What’s less known is that the company is an agricultural co-op composed of more than 3,600 “farmer-to-fork” member-owners, about half of whom are dairy farmers. In 2018, Land O’Lakes promoted this under-told story as a key differentiator for its brand.

The new ethos first showed up in a subtle but significant way on product packaging last year. The phrase “farmer-owned” was added to the right corner of Land O’Lakes labels, just above the brand name. But the co-op story required more oomph than remixed detail work. Land O’Lakes undertook a new initiative called All Together Better to draw a more human face on the brand and tell its co-op story.

“All Together Better was built on the premise of inclusion, one of the core values at Land O’Lakes,” says Catherine Fox, senior marketing director at Land O’Lakes. “In an increasingly divided world, we want to be a unifying force, celebrating the boldness, strength and grit reflective of the female farmers who make up the Land O’Lakes cooperative.”

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All Together Better is no one-off; it will be the company’s core brand identity for the foreseeable future. The message required a showstopping debut campaign that would set the table for whatever came next, something that features traditional farmers who form the backbone of the agricultural giant. The added twist: The campaign would feature all women in farming.

“When you Google farmers, only pictures of male farmers come up,” says Anne Marie Hite, senior vice president and creative director at The Martin Agency. “Then you go on these farms and there are tons of women doing all this work.”

A USDA agriculture census finds that 30% of farmers are women. It doesn’t hurt to highlight female farmers when this gender is more likely to be the primary household shopper, according to market research company The Hartman Group.

“Our ultimate goal was to sell butter,” Hite says. “These days, people want to buy products from companies they believe in and have a higher purpose. Land O’Lakes has that, it wasn’t something we needed to fabricate.”

Action

There needed to be a song; it had to be catchy, novel and exultant all at once. Hite and her colleagues drafted a female retelling of the children’s classic, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” Called “She-I-O,” it eschewed aging patriarchal farmers altogether in favor of the ladies of livestock. The song was good enough to win over Land O’Lakes marketing brass, but skilled hands were needed to turn the idea into an earworm.

Dozens of musicians were evaluated to turn the nursey rhyme into a product jingle with some manner of authenticity. The team selected Emmy Award-winning country singer Maggie Rose, saying she reflected the project’s emotional heart. They also brought on songwriter Liz Rose (no relation), whose collaboration with Taylor Swift won the pair a Grammy in 2010. “We left them in a room for three hours,” Hite says. When we came back in, Maggie had her guitar, and they played us this amazing song. It was pretty close to what we ended up with.” The song was recorded soon after in a Nashville studio and filming of the campaign music video took place on two actual Land O’Lakes member farms in Pennsylvania. The final cut flicks between female farmers at work and a glammed-up Maggie Rose performing in a red jumpsuit with her band in an empty storage shed.

“Authenticity was key, which is why the video features the Dotterer sisters, their cousins and their daughters, just a few of the many real-life female farmers from Land O’Lakes,” says Anna Squibb, Land O’Lakes senior manager of integrated marketing.

The footage was shot by veteran music directors and female filmmaking team Charlotte Fassler and Dani Girdwood. Another crew, The Female Farmer Project, also produced a three-part digital documentary series called, “In Their Words,” which told the stories of the women working the farms.

“My favorite moment of the whole process was when Maggie Rose and her band were on the farm,” Hite says. “All these women and their daughters were standing around Maggie and the directors as they played the song. I turned around and they all were crying. This is their story.”

Everything was timed to drop on Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, 2018. The cultural moment served as a natural amplifier of the ad’s message and allowed Land O’Lakes to pursue a charitable tie-in. For every “She-I-O” music video share or comment received via social media, the brand donated one dollar to Feeding America, with a $100,000 cap. Squibb notes that hunger disproportionately affects women and that 3.1 million food-insecure households are led by single women.

Finally, in a bit of brand-affirming synergy—which the Land O’Lakes team swears is in no way related to “She-I-O”—the company’s first female CEO, Beth Ford, took over leadership in the same month the advertisement went live.

Results

“We were monitoring Twitter all night to see what people were saying,” Hite says. “[We saw] things like, ‘I’m never buying another brand of butter again,’ and, ‘I love Land O’Lakes.’ It obviously resonated on such a deep level with women and what it meant for their daughters.”

A month after the initial push, a 90-second ad was shown during the season 15 premiere of “The Voice” on Sept. 24. Hosts Kelly Clarkson and Blake Shelton were both impressed enough by the song to share it on social media without being paid to promote it. The ensuing buzz was enough momentum to briefly place the track into iTunes’ Top 20 rock songs.

Singer Maggie Rose rehearsing “She-I-O.”

The more traditional goals of the campaign were more than satisfied. All told, the advertisement generated 420 million earned impressions, with 75 million via social media. “She-I-O” was talked about in 777 media outlets, including AOL, Fast Company, Today, Vox and Food & Wine. Numbers provided by The Martin Agency show a 70% increase in word-of-mouth and 10-point improvement in purchase intent. Land O’Lakes also met its $100,000 charitable contribution cap.

For Hite, the results validated the campaign’s unique mix of business as usual and passion project. “We all went through a mourning process after it was over because you don’t get those every day,” she says. “We felt so honored to be telling that story, especially when you get out there and meet the farmers.”

Zach Brooke is a former AMA staff writer turned freelance journalist. His work has been featured in Chicago magazine, Milwaukee Magazine, A.V. Club and VICE, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Zach_Brooke.