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February 05, 2007

Pork board vs. breastfeeding moms: No contest

by Josh Bernoff
Lactivist_1 I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. I had to weigh in on this one simply because it's such a mismatch.

Jennifer Laycock, a mom and blogger in Ohio, is a "Lactivist" -- that is, a mother who wants to support and promote breastfeeding. I know a litte bit about this -- I've been helping out La Leche League, an international organization that promotes breastfeeding because it's better for babies.

To raise money, Jennifer made a promotional T-shirt for "The Other White Milk." I'd like to show you a-picture but I can't find one. Why? Because the National Pork Board sent her a cease and desist letter because they felt she was infringing their slogan, "The Other White Meat."

Now this fight is clearly a mismatch. The Pork Board is well funded and has excellent lawyers. Jennifer, like all breastfeeding advocates, has nothing. No money. No lawyers. No marketing savvy. She's a mom, and this breastfeeding thing is her part-time job. All she has is a blog and, as of now, a whole lot of friends. And that's why she's going to win this round. Because this confrontation cannot help but make pork look bad, and Jennifer and breastfeeding look good.

On Thursday, Feb. 1 she told her story on her blog and posted the letter from the Pork Board on her site. Other bloggers picked it up. 227 to be exact. (After I write this it will be 228.)  She posted the phone numbers and emails of the Pork Board people -- wonder what their inboxes look like right now? In sending the letter, the Pork Board said it was attempting to protect the reputation of its slogan. How's that reputation now, with the whole Internet buzzing about big pork taking on a mom in Ohio? Oh, and since she posted on the blog she's now gotten pro-bono legal and PR counsel and an apology from the Pork Board. See what I mean about a mismatch? There's no way the Pork Board can win this one.

So far, the only publication I can find that's covering this is (amazingly) Information Week. But this woman is going to end up on Oprah, or the Today show, or in Wired or the New York Times. And the Pork Board is going to look like a corporate bully while the lactivists get the free publicity they desperately want.

I first heard about this on the Church of the Customer blog, one of my favorites, where they talk about what bad PR move this is for the pork boys -- when you're slogan is the subject of parody, it means you're winning. True. But for me, this is a story about power and the light of day. If your story can't stand the light of day (and I think the Pork Board's can't), that's not so great because the news will get out. And the mismatch between the big guy and the little guy (or mom) is over, because mom has a whole lotta friends on her side.

Looks like it's a victory for the breastfeeding babies this time.

Update: as you can see in the comment below (and in an email I got from Jennifer) it's not fair to say she has "no marketing savvy." The blog just appears to be an earnest lactivist . . . but in fact she's got a day job as editor of search engine guide and does some marketing consulting of her own. (Google reputation management and she's near the top.) Maybe the Pork Board should have done a little Googling of its own before deciding who to pick on.

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