While we were on hiatus this summer, a breaded, deep-fried tempest whirled up in the Culture War teapot. At the center of this absurdist showdown was Chick-Fil-A, the Georgia-based purveyors of better-than-average chicken sandwiches. The result was protests and boycotts by liberals and an unhealthy increase in the consumption of fried foods by conservatives.
And now this: stories reporting that Chick-Fil-A owners have changed their policy on charitable donations. Liberals have reacted with predictable gloating and glee.
EDIT: And to add to the absurdity, today, news comes out that Chick-Fil-A has done no such thing.
But regardless of whether you think they support hatred or merely support the traditional family, there’s a bigger reason to be offended by Chick-Fil-A, one that can unite us all: they think we’re all idiots.
How so? It all goes back to those cows, those infernal, insufferable cows.
Now, I know that some people like the cows. They think they’re cute or, God help us, even funny. They’re not. They’re an ever-churning insult machine that only proves we, the chicken sammich-ingesting populace are only so much cattle ourselves.
First a little history: The “Eat Mor Chikin” campaign was created by ad agency The Richards Group in 1995. I recall first seeing the ads as billboards. The concept was simple a clever: cows had taken it upon themselves to paint over a billboard with their pro-chicken consumption slogan. The use of three-dimensional cow props was brilliant, and the campaign took hold immediately. Then Chick-Fil-A, as many companies do, refused to let it go. They seem to think that too much of a good thing = an infinitely good thing. It doesn’t. It ends in sensible men wanting to murder and eat every cow on the planet just to stop those vandalizing bovines and their misspelled slogans.
And don’t even get me started on the TV commercials. The concept worked well in billboards and print, because it required the use of imagination. It allowed you to fill in the gaps of how the cows pulled off their capers. Take the same idea to television and a cold, hard splash of reality hits you smack in the face: cows are slow and dumb. That’s why we eat them. You don’t see farms raising lions or elephants as livestock, do you?
You see, many millennia ago our forefathers, with a hankering to settle down and stop their hunting and gathering ways, thought, “Why don’t we just keep the meat all in one place so it’s easier to catch?” So they moved out of the caves, built some houses and then picked the tastiest, slowest, dumbest animals they could find, herded them up with lassoes, invented the Stetson and voila! Cowboys. (I would advise against using this summation in any school papers.)
Beyond the TV commercials, the cows campaign has failed on another level. We’ll call it the Realistic Animal Trap, or RAT, for short. The RAT is a heretofore unwritten rule when creating characters based upon animals. It states that realistic (read: non-anthropomorphic) animals should only be used sparingly, because they have no personality*. And no, AFLAC, angrily quacking your company’s name over and over does not constitute a personality.
Let’s take Budweiser for an example of how to properly apply the RAT rule. In 1995 – the same year the CFA cows were born – Anheuser Busch made Super Bowl history with the debut of the Budweiser frogs. The concept, like the original Chick-Fil-A billboards, was simple and brilliant. The spot was a huge hit. It’s also notable that the ad really only worked on television. You couldn’t pull off the same trick in print or radio. Wisely, they didn’t really try. Budweiser could have beaten the idea into the ground by taking the frogs into ever more exotic and implausible locations, but they didn’t. (I do seem to recall a Christmas themed follow-up, but in the same swamp.)
So what did Budweiser do to follow up one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time? They made fun of it. By introducing wisecracking, heckling chameleon Louie, who is jealous of the frogs sudden fame, and his friend Frankie, AB made one of the most brilliant advertising moves in history. They used the RAT rule to their advantage. Someone at DMB&B innately knew that any further attempts to use the frogs as they were would be a complete failure. The joke had been told. Everyone knew the punchline. So they changed the joke.
In creating Chameleons Frankie and Louie, they not only found a way to take the frog concept in a new, fresh direction, but they also created actual characters, complete with personality archetypes we could all recognize, that would work in ads for several more years.
Chick-Fil-A needs to do this post-haste. How can they? Simple. Capitalize on the recent controversy, embrace the RAT rule and create a new character: an activist chicken counter-protester who follows the cows around and heckles them at every turn. He could insult their spelling: “What, you can parachute onto a football field, but you can’t spell ‘chicken?’ It’s C-K-E, you morons!” He could insult their species. (See above.) Most of all he could insult the very thing about the Chick-Fil-A cows that has been insulting us for nearly two decades …
They’re dairy cows!
That’s right, the Chick-Fil-A cows are Holsteins, a breed of cattle used for their milk, not for their meat. To be fair, I didn’t know this until RSM Kris Wheeler pointed it out to me. Kris was raised in the cattle business. He publishes a cattle industry magazine. His father, his uncles and his grandfather were all cattlemen. In short, he knows cows.
“Those aren’t the kind of cattle you send out west to the big feed lots,” he said. “I mean some people might eat them, but you wouldn’t want to. Typically, the cows you get in hamburgers and steaks are Angus, Brangus, Charolais, Herefords …” He went on from there, listing breeds of cattle I’d never heard of, “… Beefmaster, Limousin, maybe some cross breeds …” Like Bubba in Forrest Gump expounding on the wonders of shrimp, I got the feeling he could go on ad nauseum. Fortunately, he didn’t.
Now there are those who will argue for the Holstein’s place in the beef cattle world. Apprently, there are feed lots in California that specialize in raising Holstein beef. One might argue that Chick-Fil-A’s ad men created the campaign with that in mind. I assure you, they didn’t. As one who has worked in the ad game for the better part of two decades, I can tell you the decision likely came down to this very scientific conclusion: Holsteins look cooler. Facts be damned.
Editor’s Note: Kris later pointed out that while Holsteins are indeed used for some beef, most likely cheap hamburgers, they aren’t the kind of beef he would eat.
So gay chicken or straight, fried or grilled, eat at Chick-Fil-A if you like. Skip it if you don’t. But whatever you do, don’t make your decision based on some activist or some dyslexic dairy cattle with nothing to lose. And drink a milkshake while you’re there … just to tick the Holsteins off.
*While animal characters like Babe the pig are not physically anthropomorphized, they are given human qualities of speech and personality, thus exempting them from the RAT rule. Lassie, Benji, Gentle Ben and the like are really just supporting characters to the humans who drive the stories. And we won’t even mention Old Yeller in this conversation. It’s still too painful…