Back to the future – formula for Alberta’s beef promotion

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Ahead of the Heard

The Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) promotion committee recently decided to revive one of the most successful beef promotion brands, that being “Alberta Beef.” It’s a back-to-the-future type of exercise being that brand has been around a long time and is probably the most widely known in the country. The tag “Canadian Beef” may mean something in Asia, but in Canada if not North America, it’s “Alberta Beef” that consumers immediately recognize. It’s hard to determine when that label was originally started and by whom. There are some historical promotional items that refer to the quality of Alberta beef as far back as 100 years ago by the Burns meat packing company.

As well known as the Alberta Beef label is with consumers it’s always rankled beef producers in other provinces due to provincial chauvinism. Understandably, producers in other provinces feel their locally produced beef is just as good if not better than beef from Alberta. That has seen some localized promotions, the most active being Ontario corn-fed beef. The idea is to exploit the consumer notion that local must be better. That works in most cases, but “Alberta Beef” seems to have been able to supersede the local product, with its somewhat exotic connotation to the cowboys and cattle image that the name Alberta seems to invoke in people’s minds.

It’s all a bit bogus of course, being Alberta is the most highly urbanized province in Canada. The other reality is that cattle spend a big chunk of their lives in feedlots and not on the open range being herded by cowboys. The other little point is that Alberta beef could easily include cattle that came from any of the four western provinces and even the U.S.A. But if consumers have a certain perception in their minds about Alberta beef, well, all is fair in war and marketing.

The national beef promotion agency, the Beef Information Centre (BIC) tried to steer clear of the provincial label issue by originally promoting beef from a generic perspective focusing on nutrition and cooking. Later they added a Canadian label particularly when promoting manufacturing beef. It’s still an approach they carry out to this day, but in a highly sophisticated and targeted manner.

Here in Alberta the ABP has always had some sort of local Alberta Beef promotion but its extent was usually dependent on how much money they had to spend. Because of its national mandate BIC did not support localized efforts. Around the time of the Calgary Winter Olympics the ABP was able to find some large provincial promotion grants and launched its famous “If it ain’t Alberta it ain’t beef” campaign. At first the campaign image featured three rugged looking ranchers outfitted in classic cowboy working regalia. It was an immediate media success, but it didn’t end there.

To take advantage of that marketing success, some marketing genius came up with the idea to change the image to three female ranchers to be called rancHers. The logo and scene remained the same, the new campaign was even more successful and rocketed to international exposure winning marketing awards. The three rancHer ladies even became media celebrities. Clearly “Alberta Beef” had reached new heights of exposure, out-classing any national generic efforts. The campaign ran for a number of years and was eventually retired.

A new Alberta beef promotion was subsequently launched called “Raised Right” but it had a difficult time catching on being consumers had a hard time understanding the image and its message. The campaign also suffered from a lack of significant funding. Among its major promotion mediums were large cutouts and billboard images, both of which were hard for consumers to see and relate to. The campaign slowly faded and some folks were hankering for the glory days of the “If it ain’t Alberta it ain’t beef” campaign.

Well it now seems that an effort will be made to come up with a new “Alberta Beef” campaign. The goal will be, of course, to come up with a concept similar to the famous and legendary “if it ain’t beef” campaign. One thing is for sure, the words “Alberta Beef” have a lot of consumer recognition and any new promotion should learn from the past and exploit that familiarity.

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