In a regional Super Bowl ad buy in the Washington D.C. area, the Center for Consumer Freedom sought to sow doubt about the safety of ingredients in meat alternatives.
Here’s the gist: A spelling bee official offers the word methylcellulose to a young contestant, which he describes as “a chemical laxative that’s also used in synthetic meat.”
The child is confused, and fails to spell it correctly. A narrator explains: “You may need a Ph.D to understand what’s in synthetic meat. Fake bacon and burgers can have dozens of chemical ingredients.”
The narration concludes: “If you can’t spell it, or pronounce it, maybe you shouldn’t be eating it.”
Released Thursday before the game, public relations firm Berman and Company created the spot. The firm is well-known in Washington for creating anti-union and pro-business campaigns. CCF also released an extended version of the ad online, which ends with a contestant correctly spelling “bacon.”
By Saturday, Impossible Foods created a parody produced entirely in-house with a cast consisting of Impossible employees and their families. The company’s CEO, Pat Brown, plays the role of the official, asking a contestant to spell “poop. … The stinky brown stuff that comes out of your butt. Poop is a mixture of incompletely digested food and billions of bacteria, expelled from the bowels of animals. There’s lots of poop in the places where pigs and cows and chickens are killed and chopped to bits to make meat. And there’s poop in the ground beef we make from cows. Poop.” (The kid nails the spelling.)
A narration ensues, like in CCF’s ad. This one cites a 2015 Consumer Reports study that tested 300 samples of ground beef and concluded that “all of it, including grass-fed and organic ground beef” contained fecal bacteria.
“Just because a kid can spell poop, doesn’t mean you or your kids should be eating it,” the spot concludes.
Impossible hasn’t purchased any broadcast space for the spot, but the company’s chief communications officer Rachel Konrad said they’ll continue to use it to counter CCF on social media.
In addition to the regional Super Bowl ad buy, CCF’s ad will air on national cable news in the coming weeks. It’s part of a broader campaign by the PR firm that includes print ads in national newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and New York Post.
James Bowers, creative director, Berman and Company, said the spot aims to raise awareness of synthetic meats as processed products. He added that the parody from Impossible simply showed that its campaign is “getting to them,” characterizing the response as an attempt to “throw poop at the wall to see if it distracts the media and consumers from their own ingredient list.”
Konrad, however, sees the initial attack ad as evidence that the meat industry is feeling continued pressure from more sustainable alternatives to an industry that’s bad for the environment.
When the Impossible team saw CCF’s spelling bee ad, Konrad said it first planned to respond as it usually does—through a blog post on its site.
“People have the right to transparency about their food and they want to actively understand where lies and misleading statements and disinformation comes from,” she said. “And we want to engage in those dialogues.”
Konrad described the script as “too easy to parody” and an opportunity to “have some fun with this one.” Konrad also explained methylcellulose as a soluble dietary fiber that adds texture to the product.
“Meat from animals doesn’t have fiber, our product does,” said Konrad. “That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”