Editors’ Picks: Dairymen vie for Rotten’s favour

Seeing a star butter pitchman on the rise, dairy producers from New Zealand are looking for a nod from British 1970s punk-rock icon John Lydon, more famously known as Johnny Rotten.

Lydon, the 53-year-old vocalist for the Sex Pistols, has since last year appeared in a series of TV and print ads for U.K. processor Dairy Crest on behalf of its Country Life butter brand, extolling its taste while indirectly noting other selling points such as its “100 per cent British milk” content.

In an interim management statement in February, Dairy Crest credited Lydon with helping realize “increased brand awareness” which in turn led to an 85 per cent increase in spreadable volume sales for the company’s third fiscal quarter.

The campaign on Monday drew a response from New Zealand’s Federated Farmers Dairy, which issued a release inviting Lydon to visit New Zealand and “see for himself the difference free range cows makes to the quality of butter and other dairy products.”

“Never mind the butter, it’s the quality of the milk what counts,” said Willy Leferink, Federated Farmers Dairy vice-chairperson, in a veiled reference to the title of the Sex Pistols’ lone studio album in 1977.

“While all milk may contain the same basic properties, kiwi cows are in a league of their own… Grazing outdoors on (genetically modified crop)-free grass and natural winter feed makes for happy cows and fantastic quality milk.

“This milk is crafted into quality butter and other dairy products and the only thing holding us back in the U.K., is the European Union’s ridiculous tariff barriers.”   

According to the British farmers’ paper Farmers Weekly, Dairy Crest’s response Tuesday is a new advertising salvo, appealing to the British consumer’s national pride in full-page ads in Tuesday’s Times and Metro London newspapers featuring Lydon.

The advertisement asks, “Do you know where your butter comes from?” and claims 39 per cent of people who buy Anchor butter (a “free-range” brand owned by Denmark’s Arla Foods) believe it to be British when its ingredients come from New Zealand.

“We’ve nothing against New Zealand, it’s a fantastic place,” Farmers Weekly quotes the Country Life ad as saying. “But if you prefer to buy British and support British farmers then Country Life is the natural choice.”

Dairy Crest, which started life as the processing operations of Britain’s Milk Marketing Board in 1933, acquired the well-known Country Life brand in 2004 after buying up full ownership of the English Butter Marketing Co.

“Taste freedom”

“New Zealand’s climate and quality pasture means we are in an agricultural sweet spot. British consumers literally taste freedom when they eat New Zealand butter,” Federated Farmers’ Leferink said in Monday’s release.

“While I’d like to think of dairy farmers as being the rock stars of the New Zealand economy, I’d be pleased to host that old punk rocker, John Lyndon (sic), on my farm. Perhaps Mr. Lyndon could use some of the money he got paid for endorsing the British brand to pay for his flight down under.”

Lydon’s notoriety first peaked in Britain in 1977 when the Sex Pistols released their song “God Save The Queen,” not to be confused with the anthem of the same name, during Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee celebrations. The band’s subsequent implosion was compounded by the death of bassist Sid Vicious in 1979. Lydon’s next project was the renowned alternative group Public Image Ltd.

The Pistols’ original members reunited in 1996 and have played off-and-on since, cheerfully marketing their reunions as a blatant cash grab. Lydon became an occasional TV host on programs such as the Discovery Channel’s “John Lydon’s Megabugs” and, briefly, a reality show contestant on the British series “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”

— The “Editors’ Picks” feature will highlight eyebrow-raising and unusual-yet-true news from the world of farming, as gleaned from various sources by the editorial staff of the Farm Business Communications division.

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