I did this story last week on our daily business radio show, Insight on Business, and received so much feedback that I figured I'd write it down. Why leave it lost to the airwaves? We're always telling our advertising agency clients to take advantage of all the tools they can to better learn more about their customer. The same advice might have worked with our friends at the Iowa State Fair.
A few days after the death of Michael Jackson the Iowa State Fair thought up the idea of sculpting the self proclaimed "King of Pop" in butter and have him standing in the Agricultural Building near the famed "Butter Cow". If it was a planned public relations stunt...it was brilliant. The media had a field day and Lori Chappell, the marketing director for the fair became real busy....real quick.
The first hurdle: The display is sponsored by those wild and crazy members of the Iowa Dairy Association. The Dairy Association, on their web-site, said they had nothing to do with it. Yikes...that didn't work out so well.
When the pressure started to build the fair folks cooked up the idea the the MJ statue was somehow related to the original concept of honoring the 1969 Neil Armstrong moon walk. I know, lame...but hey, it added to the buzz and it was kept the story alive. Brilliant again!
But lots of people were pretty upset that this guy who, twenty years ago, played the Iowa State Fair but then turned into a pretty creepy person, and to have him grace the storied halls of the Agricultural Building? Not so fast.
However, the Fair still had more tricks up their sleeve. They said, "OK, you people want a say? Go on-line and vote "yes" or "no" on Butter Michael!"
Again...brilliant! Keep that story "churning"! And it did as Iowan's waited seven long days for the announcement.
In the end over 100,000 folks voted and the idea got spanked. (I wonder if it's OK to use the word "spanked" near another sentence with MJ's name?) Butter Michael Jackson lost 65 to 35 percent. Game over! Right? Well, not quite.
You see...some of us are still wondering if it was a planned stunt...or if the Iowa State Fair really..really thought this was a good idea. If so...and in my best Ricky Ricardo voice, a message to Lori Chappell, "Lori, you got some splainin' to do!"
The Iowa State Fair with all the glitz and loudness and food on sticks is rooted in what many of us see as something wholesome. Having Michael Jackson, the "King of Weird" honored at such a venue would be like having strippers on the Midway. (Not that it hasn't been tried, at least unofficially. But that is another story.)
Can you imagine the marketing meeting? "OK folks, we've got an idea. Michael Jackson just died so what do you think about honoring him in the Ag Building and have those conservative dairy farmers sponsor the program?" You know, those same dairy farmers who are right now taking it in the shorts (did I say that?) because of the low milk prices. The same dairy farmers who are going out of business at a rapid rate because they simply can't turn a profit when prices are half of what they were a year ago. "Yeah..the people will buy this one! What do ya think?"
How out of touch can one group possibly be when it comes to their core supporters, and customers?
By the way...it ain't quite over. Waiting in the wings? One of the country music stars to headed to Des Moines to entertain the faithful is Kelly Clarkston who was being promoted as the new Country Music Vegetarian. Recent reports have her denying her love of all things "green". We'll see. If not, look for more fireworks once this sinks in with the Iowa Cattlemen, The Iowa Pork Producers, Turkey and Lamb farmers...
Hey, it couldn't get any better!