Organic Pastures owner Mark McAfee (in Santa hat), delivering raw milk Saturday to a happy family in Mammoth, CA. He flew 300 pounds of milk in on his private plane to ensure Mammoth residents wouldn't lose access to their milk because of closed roads in the Sierra Nevadas.  For companies of all sizes, marketing is, at its most fundamental, about being in synch with the pulse of your customers, and working to provide products and services to keep growing your customer base. Companies that stay in synch, like Google and Amazon, can experience sensational growth.


For that reason, companies don’t like to see news come out that might frighten the marketplace. The news about hackers stealing credit card information from Target is a classic example of bad news turning into a marketing nightmare. 


A similar kind of nightmare seemed to be unfolding last week for producers of raw milk around the country, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics collaborated to create a one-two punch designed to frighten consumers, cripple raw milk sales, and help boost the big corporations that sell pasteurized milk. 


The reality is turning out to be just the opposite. Rather than being frightened, consumers seem increasingly to ignore the studies and warnings, or even to do the opposite of what the warnings say, and instead support raw dairy farmers and stock up on raw milk. It’s not unlike the warnings for marijuana, which have been going on since the 1960s, when it first became fashionable on college campuses, to the present, with ever more states legalizing it in some form or another. 


As Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. reported in comments following my previous post, his dairy has experienced the opposite of what might be expected. “I anticipated with interest (and a little trepidation)  as this week’s sales numbers came in…..yep…just as suspected…sales just broke an all time record. OPDC FB is filled with support and comments of disdain and distrust of AAP, CDC and the Minnesota un-reported raw milk illness report!”


I would have held my breath, too, if I was in McAfee’s position, but in retrospect, it isn’t a surprise to see what he refers to as the “inverse association” between bad news on the publicity front and good news on the sales front.  (The Raw Milk Institute he heads has published a rebuttal to the CDC’s study of raw milk in Minnesota.)


We saw the same phenomenon at work when Vernon Hershberger went through a five-day trial last May in connection with his insistence on selling raw milk privately in Wisconsin. Not only did the jury of 12 people find him innocent of violating any state retailing or dairy regulations, but several of the jurors wound up joining his food club, and his food club membership soared. 


Similarly, Edwin Shank of Pennsylvania saw his sales explode late last summer after his Family Cow raw dairy re-opened after it was shuttered for several weeks because of tests showing campylobacter in the dairy’s milk. 


On and on the examples go. Anyone who produces raw milk quickly finds demand rising, and often outstripping supply. And as the warnings increase, so do the sales. 


This phenomenon–call it the Good Food Boomerang Marketing-Mystique–should be profoundly troubling  to all involved in the assaults, including the big corporations that produce pasteurized milk as well as to the mainstream media that report nearly without challenge or questioning the politically motivate science on raw dairy put out by the CDC or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (I inquired with the CDC public affairs office, via phone and email, for any examples of similar studies targeting specific foods, as was carried out in Minnesota, and received no response.)

Pasteurized milk sales have been on a steady decline since 1984, with not a hint of suggestion that the ever-more-shrill warnings about raw milk are about to change things; raw milk sales aren’t tabulated by the government, but all indications are that they have risen astronomically over the last decade. 

Along with declining pasteurized milk sales have been declining mainstream media sales results.  Places like the New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, and USA Today, have seen their advertising tumble by two-thirds over the last decade in which nutrient-dense foods like raw milk have become ever more popular. When people ignore the government warnings that are distributed via the mainstream media about these foods and do the opposite of what is recommended, people are saying they don’t trust any of the sponsoring parties, including the media disseminators. (Of course, credibility isn’t the only reason the old media have crumbled, but a disconnect with readers is likely one key factor.)

Big Ag and Big Media have clearly lost the pulse of their markets. People will buy the products they value, not the products Big Ag wants to force feed people or the stories Big Media finds easiest to fill its papers with. 

For all of these parties–Big Ag, Big Medicine, Big Government, Big Media–losing your credibility is losing a big part of your reason for being. It’s like money or anything else of value–it’s a lot easier to lose than it is to gain back.