AGRICULTURE has some amazing stories to tell, but the biggest challenge we face is making our audience - the consumer – care enough to listen and act.
Some of the best, true stories I’ve ever heard have been from farmers with weathered faces and broad-shouldered shearing contractors.
The stories and the people in them are what give agriculture a colour so vibrant, it has the capacity to cut through the bright city lights into the hearts of people unfamiliar with life on the land.
Andrew Stanton, the Oscar-winning filmmaker who came up with ground breaking stories like Toy Story and Finding Nemo knows the checklist of “essentials” in a good story. And I can tell you after reviewing them, most of the stories at the local pub, around barbecues or at home with family, tick the same boxes.
Without knowing, we pick a new angle and give a promise, this builds anticipation and tension at an emotional level which is where the message or “moral of the story” sits. The anticipation is then washed away with the funny punch-line or poignant end to the story, leaving us enlightened in some way, with an understanding and attachment to a message or moral. If inspired, we’ll want to share what we’ve just learnt and/or enjoyed.
We are so good at communicating through stories, but as an industry, our story is far from leaving the message we want in the hearts and minds of our audience. We need to think outside the square, with better methods of delivery. The biggest challenge we face in Australian agriculture is making our audience - the consumer - care.
Picture this - you’re telling a story at a dinner party full of friends, but it’s the same story you’ve been telling for years, so your audience is less enthused. You’re half way through when one guy gets up and walks away. The audience is now restless but hangs in there while you keep talking. Then, when you’re about deliver the punch line some loudmouth up the back yells out something that effectively questions your motives for telling the story and attempts to contradict the characters.
Your story went from being sharp and directional, to something that peters out into just a dribble of words. A few in the audience got your point, most don’t care and a few others are trying to find the reason why that guy left.
In this example, think of the narrator as the industry, the story is about agriculture, the guy that got up and walked away resembles the disinterest of some politicians and other leaders, and Mr Loudmouth up the back is the extremist environmentalist or animal activist who shoots down any messages not in-line with their opinions.
The aftermath of what’s left in the minds of the audience or consumer is what we have right now in agriculture.
Andrew Stanton said “Change is fundamental in a story. If things go static, stories die”, and therein lies our challenges. Our story hasn’t changed and we’re getting angry with our audience because they’re not listening, they don’t care.
We need to generate a story that inspires people to care. We live and produce in a country where food is taken for granted. The attitude of “it’s always there, whenever I need it, where’s the value for me in caring where it comes from?” is rife throughout our audience.
There are some groups, organisations and people that are out there telling the story of agriculture and doing a great job, through schools, social media and presentations to name a few.
There are also some farm businesses marketing their commodity-based product as a brand and giving it a unique story. They may also diversify, moving in to new or smaller markets where they can be heard. But not every producer can or wants to develop a compelling brand story to make consumers care.
I don’t believe there should be just one story, there needs to be thousands. But ideally they all need a fresh and similar message or moral to the story.
All of this is in the pursuit of the often mentioned “Holy Grail” - that is, shifting the attitudes and behaviours of consumers to the point where our story is not only compelling but makes them want to think and act on the message.