You know what’s not the hippest thing in the world if you’re a Texas teen these days? Beef, apparently.
That’s the takeaway from this report from the Texas Tribune report about how the Texas Beef Council is turning its marketing efforts to young people who might prefer to eat fewer steaks and hamburgers than their parents did these days, and who are less likely to feel a nostalgic twinge at an ad campaign on television that declares “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner”:
[P]ublic affection for beef — and traditional television — has waned, particularly among members of the millennial generation, who are less inclined to eat meat and more likely to encounter advertising on phones and computer screens.
In Texas, where cattle are almost as important to the state’s image as its economy, beef producers are trying to grasp both horns of that dilemma.
After a dinner of beef brisket on a warm fall evening in north San Antonio, members of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association sat back and listened to Jason Bagley of the Texas Beef Council outline how the trade group is moving away from print, television and radio ads.
To attract young families, Bagley said, the Beef Council is turning to food and recipe apps, its website and tailored cooking events.
Young eaters have long been the holy grail of the beef industry, which has come up with a variety of approaches designed to reach young folks in the past ten years or so. The current plan endorsed by Bagley, as reported by the Trib, features examples of how young eaters might get all psyched over beef in the future. It sounds like a collection of buzzwords—”Apps!” “Beef website!” “Tailored events!”—and while it’s unclear how all of that will look, the few specifics we do have are, um, a bit tacky: They include how-to events called “Girls Gone Grilling,” an unfortunate name given it makes people think of the “Girls Gone Wild” franchise. (The Beef Council’s “Girls Gone Grilling” campaign offers cooking demonstrations for young girls; no one is being asked to take their clothes off.)
Perhaps some may consider the “Girls Gone Grilling” campaign to be curious marketing, but it wouldn’t rank anywhere near the top spot for things the beef and cattle industry has done in an attempt to reach young eaters. Beef consumption has been shrinking since its height in the seventies, when the average American consumed nearly 81 pounds of boneless, trimmed meat every year, to a low of 54 pounds in 2013. (Vegetarians who feel like declaring victory should be aware that we’ve nearly doubled our poultry consumption in that time.)
Those trends have been in effect for well over a decade, though, which means that any attempt to reach young potential consumers of beef products on the Internet will have to compete with one of the all-time weirdest marketing campaigns by a major mainstream industry: The 2003 website cool-2b-real.com, which was a partnership between the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the “edutainment” company Circle 1 Network.
That website is now defunct, though thanks to the hard work of the folks at Archive.org’s Wayback Machine, we can see what it looked like in its heyday: A laughably dated, even at the time, site intended to speak to tween girls about the joys of beef consumption in their own language. That campaign featured gems that declared things like:
Busy “real girls” need smart food choices for nutrition-on-the-run. Here are a few quick, easy and tasty combos –guaranteed to give an energy boost for rollerblading, homework, music lessons, dance classes – and everything else you love to do:
Recipes and snack suggestions were the order of the day then, too, suggesting to hungry twelve-year-old rollerbladers that they should snack on “english muffin pizza with ground beef crumbles and melted cheese” or “a bowl of chili” before they strap on the skates.
The highlight of that campaign was an online poll—interactivity is key on the Internet!—that asked tween girls “What type of beef do you most like to eat with your friends?”
While we’ll happily take any excuse to revisit one of the more bizarre marketing campaigns in Internet history, there’s more of a point to this than just unearthing some decade-old snark: That is to say, beef is a decidedly weird product to market as, you know, “beef.” The word is weird. As slang, it’s used to refer to a number of body parts and functions that aren’t always appetizing. There’s no argument that young people can get all psyched for beef products: That mile-long line for Franklin BBQ in Austin, for example, is usually chock full of the sort of millenial “young eaters” that the Texas Beef Council hopes to reach with whatever campaign (that hopefully doesn’t spend too much time on sexist “Girls Gone Grilling” exhibitions) they eventually settle on. People—even young people!—in Texas will line up for burgers, brisket, ribs, tacos, etc, etc. But campaigns like this certainly can go wrong pretty quickly.
Good luck, Texas Beef Council!