Vol. 3, Issue 10, April 5, 2005
For Honey Producers, Ads Not So Sweet
The commercials hit the airwaves last week: the camera slowly zooms to a dramatic close-up footage of an insect's face, with fluid seen to ooze from between its mandibles. "Vomit is not a food group," intones the basso voiceover. "You wouldn't feed your family dog vomit or chicken vomit. So why would you feed them bug vomit?" Sickening, slurping sound effects build to a crescendo, together with a shrilly dissonant orchestral score and ominous clicking sounds as the mandibles move and drip fluid. Then, a sudden silence and fade to black, and the closer, "Honey: it's not such a sweet story as you think."
This is the commercial that has honey producers nationwide in an absolute uproar. "It's slander, plain and simple," raged Gerald Hansen, of the American Honey Producers Association. "Nothing looks good that close up. Have you seen yourself magnified 100 times? Don't try it unless you've got a really good therapist."
The ad is the latest salvo in what has become an all-out war for the right to dominate the lucrative pancake syrup market. Although this has been dominated for years by maple syrup, honey has made aggressive inroads in the past twelve months, in part attempting to make up for lost market share elsewhere. And the battle has gotten ugly.
"Between the low-carb fueled backlash against sugars, and widespread misinformation about the safety of honey with young children, we felt it was time to reposition our product," said Hansen. "The pancake market seemed like the logical next step for us."
The first volley in the war on breakfast came last year, during a highly successful ad campaign sponsored by the Honey Producers Association which featured a child and his father tapping trees for maple syrup. The idyllic scene in the ads comes crashing down when the boy asks his father "Why are we making the trees bleed?" The scene is followed by an image of a family wearing vampire fangs eating pancakes and maple syrup with animalistic blood-lust.
"Hey, it was a marketing strategy," said Hansen. "And let me tell you, to get our product, we don't have to poke a hole in the bees. I think there's a real ethical difference in our production approach from that of the maple syrup mafiosa. They stick metal spikes and tubes into those trees. That's pretty invasive if you ask me."
It was not long before the maple syrup consortium struck back with a series of ads asserting that honey causes hay fever, since it contains pollen. A lower court ruling in September, however, forced the ads off the air. There have since been sporadic reports of vandalism on both sides, including a swarm of bees released into the headquarters of the Maple Syrup Coalition and honeybee hives mysteriously buried under tons of maple leaves. The latest ad campaign, however, has the Honey Producers Association once again threatening legal action, and possible "selected deforestation."
So far, other syrup factions have stayed out of the fray. However, the Grandma's Molasses company has issued a statement warning the feuding sides to keep the conflict to themselves.
"We find the conflict both pointless and superficial," the company said. "But for the record, both the honey and maple syrup organizations would be well-advised to leave us out of it. Anyone who remembers the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 knows that we play hardball."