Unless we’re friendz on Facebook, you probably didn’t notice the recent dustup involving Yellow Tail wine. It emerged a few weeks back when the Humane Society of the United States announced a Yellow Tail promotion designed to generate $100,000 for the Washington-based animal-rights group.
I should tell you now that I don’t care for Yellow Tail wine, but sometimes serve it at parties after my guests get into the 3rd or 4th bottle. At that point, who can tell the difference? I should also tell you I don’t care for the Humane Society of the United States much, either.
How can I dislike folks who rescue homeless cats and dogs? I don’t. And they don’t. Like many of you, I long believed the HSUS and my local humane society were one in the same. Turns out, we were victims of brand confusion.
HSUS works primarily on animal-rights legislation, not animal rescue projects. The group also holds some radical positions when it comes to the use of animals, and often finds itself at loggerheads with farmers and ranchers. Where I get crossways with HSUS is over its opposition to hunting and fishing, hobbies of mine for more than 40 years.
HSUS isn’t always on my s#&* list. The group has supported legislation to ban animal fighting activities and to regulate the “puppy mill” industry, both commendable positions.
Organized opposition to the YT-HSUS partnership has shown up in agricultural publications and pro-farm websites. It’s also generating buzz via social media and mainstream media. Hunters have jumped in, posting dissatisfaction to forums and message boards, promising to vote with their wallets and to boycott Yellow Tail.
Finally, there’s this South Dakota rancher, along with his black angus herd, helping the protest along with a YouTube video.
I worry that some who support HSUS don’t know the whole story. The ‘humane society” brand is a powerful one that most of us associate with local pet adoption. So it’s easy to be taken in by the puppy pictures and emotional appeals used by HSUS. It happens.
But if you’re in the business of counseling clients about marketing partnerships, doing your homework isn’t an option. What happened here? Did the folks at Yellow Tail fall for the puppy images on the website? Didn’t they consider the millions of Americans who oppose the more radical positions of HSUS?
How could the marketers overlook the signs? Or does someone at Casella Wines feel so strongly about HSUS that he/she would put the flagship brand at risk? Doubt it.
We won’t know for a couple of months if the campaign was a boneheaded move. It’s possible the “Boycott Yellow Tail” movement will never achieve the critical mass. It’s possible that bloggers and reporters will lose interest in the story. Most boycotts fail.
Anyway, it’s been fun adding to the groundswell with this post, but it’s also a teachable moment for PR students and the profession. The lesson is simple: Marketers should do their research. The opposition to HSUS would have become immediately evident.
And for the well-intentioned animal lovers out there: If you want to support the adoption of homeless pets, send a check to your local shelter. They need your help, and that’s what they do.