Five minutes with Cevin Jones and “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner"

If you"re a cattle rancher of a certain age, you remember them; great ads with Robert Mitchum"s deep voice booming "Beef.  It"s What"s for Dinner" while Aaron Copland"s "Rodeo Hoedown" played in the background.  Every time it played, meat eating Americans suddenly got the urge to eat a steak or grill a burger.  It was all over radio and TV in 1992 and it set a new standard for checkoff dollar supported marketing.  If there was such a thing as the Billboard Top 10 advertising hits of that era, "Beef" would have been #1 with a bullet.

But that was then and this is now.  The checkoff is still at a dollar a head and the herd is as small as it has been since shortly after WWII.  The big budget that backed that early marketing effort is long gone and the Cattlemen"s Beef Board has to do a lot more with a lot less.  When CBB announced a new beef ad campaign, I thought the financial constrictions might make it a pale comparison of the original.  I posed a few questions about it to Cevin Jones and he suggested I might be surprised.

Five minutes with Cevin Jones and Cevin is one of the Checkoff volunteers who helped come up with the new campaign.  He"s a member of the Operating Committee, vice chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils, operates Intermountain Beef, a family owned custom feedlot, and has been involved with the beef industry his entire life.  He grew up on his family feedlot and farming operation.  He served as a Federation Region V vice president, as well as on boards of the NCBA and U.S. Meat Export Federation. 

With a background like that, the old saying about penurious people comes to mind: "He throws around his nickles like manhole covers."  I figured he would take that attitude toward the funds needed to make this new campaign a success.  With a lot fewer dollars to spend, the old bank account better be as frugally spent as possible. 

When he described how the money would be spent, I thought the tightest Scotsman would be proud.  Forgive the often ‘commercial" sound to his answers, he"s justifiably proud of what the CBB folks have managed to accomplish with little more than a shoe string budget.

Q. The new ad that I saw placed that iconic phrase, "Beef. It's what's for Dinner" as a tag line at the bottom and uses "What's your dinner made of" as a headline. Although it's a nice play on one of the all time great ad campaigns in modern marketing history, a few people might ask if "What's for Dinner" has been demoted. What's the story behind this new creative approach?

A. "Beef. It"s What"s For Dinner" continues to be the primary campaign emphasis and is more prominently placed in this campaign than it has been in the past few years, primarily because it is such a well-recognized campaign tagline. The "What"s your dinner made of?" prompt in the print ads is a way to engage the consumer in rethinking what"s on their plate, and remind them that beef brings its great taste and 10 essential nutrients to the table.

It"s important that the essential nutrient story come through loud and clear since research has shown that 45 percent of the target demographic said they would choose beef more often if they knew about how its nutrients compared to chicken. So overall, the new campaign helps set the record straight about beef"s essential nutrients in an engaging and educational way.

Q. Who are you trying to reach with this new campaign? Will you be talking to singles? Established home makers? Young people? Minorities?

A. We expect to reach the next generation of beef eaters – the older millennial and Gen-Xer, aged 25 to 44 –who care about food and nutrition. We are directing our efforts toward those who are learning how to cook and prepare meals for their young families. The campaign will reach 75 percent of the "food and health involved" consumer target an average of seven times through the 2013 fiscal year.

Q. The original ads appeared in print and radio and TV. That was way back then; where will we see the new campaign today? Will you take advantage of social media?

A. We"ll be making the most of social media. The campaign will appear across a range of digital platforms, such as tablet versions of traditional print magazines, online radio stations like Pandora; video websites like Hulu; social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube, and popular recipe websites such as

The print ads will appear in national magazines such as Everyday with Rachael Ray, Cooking Light, Self, Shape, Men"s Health, Weight Watchers, Women"s Health, ESPN, Men"s Journal, and US Weekly. State Beef Councils will extend the campaign through print, radio, digital, in-person promotions, sporting events, outdoor advertising and more.

Q. The dollars that can be put behind this campaign are a lot more constrained than they were when "Beef. It's What's for Dinner" debuted 21 years ago with $42 million behind it. What's the budget for this campaign and how will you measure its effectiveness?

A. The Fiscal Year checkoff consumer advertising budget is around $9.5 million. Effectiveness is measured through a comprehensive consumer market research effort.  In particular, the checkoff measures how consumers think and feel about beef on a variety of attributes that represent key "drivers" for the beef – taste, nutrition, ease of use and more.  Over time, we"ve found a strong uptick in the number of folks who feel better about beef – and these positive associations are critical to supporting beef sales, especially in light of increasing beef prices.

Q. What made those early ads so memorable were some great voices.  Those of us of a certain age can still remember the booming voices of Robert Mitchum, James Garner and Sam Elliott.  Tell me about this new guy, Garrett Hedlund.  What does he think about stepping into the big boots of that hearty-voiced trio of legends? Can he 'cowboy up' and make people believe?

A. Garret said, "I grew up on my father's cattle operation, so I"m right at home as the new voice of beef." He was born in Roseau, MN and spent his early years on a cattle operation. When he was just 18 he landed a role in the epic film Troy playing opposite Brad Pitt. He went on to Friday Night Lights in 2004 and Tron Legacy. His latest roles include Country Strong, in which he plays a rising young country star opposite Gwyneth Paltrow and On the Road with Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen.

Q. There will be a series of ads as part of this campaign. What can you tell me about each of them?

A. Each ad asks the question "What"s Your Dinner Made of?" and it"s answered with bold copy highlighting the nutritional benefits of beef, along with food photography reminding the consumer that delicious can, and does, go right alongside nutritious. Each ad calls out an essential nutrient, like protein: "The Strip steak has lots of protein…and your appetite"s attention." Another ad reminds you that a dinner with beef "has iron. The most lean, delicious and tender iron known to man."

The ads feature a wide array of ways to prepare beef – including dishes such as Bibimbap-Style Korean-Marinated Flank Steak, Braised Brisket Street-Style Tacos and Mediterranean Beef Meatball Kabobs. All these delicious and nutritious checkoff recipes can be found on the "Beef. It"s What"s For Dinner" website.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food industry journalist and columnist.


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