THE recent Chipotle video, "The Scarecrow," created a lot of commotion in the press and social media as critics and supporters struggled to determine the real message in the advertising piece.
Thousands of images appear in mass media every day, each telling a story and delivering details words cannot adequately describe. In the case of "The Scarecrow," many viewers questioned its real meaning.
Someone on Facebook commented, "Chipotle hit it out of the park by exposing corporate farming"; another said he's "tired of companies trying to gloss over the integrity of their food ingredients to sell their products."
In our culture, people want to learn the details of issues, events and products in the least amount of time possible. That is why it is so important for farmers and ranchers to understand the connection between imagery and the words used to tell their stories.
The description of a recent workshop I attended said: "This workshop is best suited for students that want to increase their understanding of the use of imagery in the mass media. Participants are advised to submit at least one electronic example of either still or video imagery that has appeared in the media. "
The workshop called up the cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words, but today, for that to be effective, it needs to be worth 2,000 words.
Most participants selected images found on popular social media websites. Everyone explained the rationale for their choice and why they felt that the imagery was genuine and reached out to readers more efficiently than picking up a newspaper or viewing the website of a magazine.
It was obvious that these participants were not interested in settling for images in any traditional media format that could be edited and could possibly reflect the political position of the publication and its advertisers.
One attendee stated that the images in social media very seldom are edited, especially during and following tragic events like the recent Navy Yard shooting. He felt that they represented the unvarnished truth.
In my mind, I wondered: If they truly want the unvarnished truth or the real story, do they consider animated videos like "The Scarecrow" genuine?
I was last on the list to present my example. My image was from a traditional publication, edited and creatively enhanced. I honestly thought about heading for the door instead of the dais.
As a burger on the cover of the July/August of The Atlantic magazine appeared on the screen, I opened with comments on market saturation and how issue fatigue contributes to the loss of consumer interest.
The burger looked out of place in the current events section of the newsstand. After capturing the attention of potential readers, though, the miniature scientists and engineers Photoshopped into the frame served to create more interest and lend more credibility to the photo.
I explained my thoughts on the creation and use of the image to draw the reader's eye to the title of the feature article, "The Cure for Obesity, How Science is Engineering Healthy Junk Food," by David H. Freedman.
Before I could finish my presentation, one person got upset that it was diminishing the importance of fighting obesity and promoting junk food. Her reaction proved my point: The editors had accomplished their goal of using the image to generate new interest in the subject of obesity.
That is why the picture is so powerful: It encourages those genuinely concerned about the obesity crisis to become more engaged, take time to read more on the subject, pick up new information and communicate that to others.
I used my remaining time to ask questions. Based on the participants' earlier comments on the substance and credibility of photos and videos posted on social media, did they feel the same about advertising in social media platforms? Several said they ignored advertising on social media unless close friends shared it.
The response was mixed when I asked if they had seen the Chipotle and Panera animated food production ads. A few felt that the ads were informative and shared them with friends, while others said animation insulted their intelligence. One man even said he deleted them because he doesn't eat fast food.
I asked if any of them had ever met a famer or toured a farm. One guy replied that he been on a farm; one or two said they talked to farmers when they could afford to shop at the local farmers market. Most of their exposure to farming was limited to driving by a farm or seeing information in the media.
I told them, "Guess what? You can now say you have all met and talked to a real farmer. I am a farmer from Nebraska who is majoring in commutations. If you have any questions about farming or food production, I would be happy to answer them."
The look on their faces was priceless. Their questions were well thought out, and it provided me with a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to tell the story about my farm.
*Joy Philippi is a fourth-generation Nebraska farmer and pork producer and partners with her parents in Philippi Farms. She has been active in agricultural advocacy for many years and is a former president of the National Pork Producers Council and Nebraska Pork Producers Assn. and a past board member of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture.