AVANT GARDENER

Yvette Tan

What do avocados, bananas, oranges, and kale have in common?

The answer is that their popularity in the Western — and by extension, global — market are the results of heavy marketing campaigns.

Contrary to popular belief, these beloved crops didn’t achieve prominence on their own. Like the highly publicized marketing campaign behind the rise of the diamond as a sign of long-lasting affection, many crops and value-added products are actually the result of well-executed marketing strategies. And like the diamond, their prominence in modern living has lasted lifetimes.

Orange juice, for example, was the product of a 1907 marketing campaign to utilize excess harvests in California. Now it is a beloved breakfast drink the world over. Bananas were introduced to the USA in 1876, but didn’t gain popularity until the early 20th century, its entrance into the mainstream suffering roadblocks such as the fruit being too suggestive to eat in public (this was addressed by a marketing campaign as well). The campaign around the banana’s health benefits lasted decades — from at least 1917 to 1939 — with the banana-cornflake-milk combo appearing in 1924. It worked so well that discarded banana peels became a problem (rotting banana peels were slippery and accidentally stepping on them caused people to slip and fall), later, the butt of many jokes in early comedies and cartoons. Kale and avocados have similar marketing origins.

The truth is strategically marketing a crop isn’t new or revolutionary, and when done right, can reap rewards for growers long after the campaign stops. Wouldn’t it be great if this were done with local crops that farmer groups want to highlight?

To a certain extent, this has been going on for some time locally, though its effects haven’t been as far-reaching. For example, many farmers have been extolling the virtues of flowers like roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and ternate or blue pea (Clitoria ternatea) for years, but though they’ve become popular in agriculture circles, they haven’t been able to penetrate the mainstream.

Go abroad, however, and you’ll find that these flowers are well known in our Asian neighbors. Roselle is a popular tisane in Taiwan and there are coffee shops in Singapore that offer blue pea lattes. Aside from extolling their health benefits, both are presented in ways that are pretty to look at.

Why haven’t they reached the same level of popularity in the Philippines? It could be because of these factors:

Push. There should be a big enough group (or a small group with a lot of money) pushing for the ubiquity of a crop. For example, it was the Southern California Fruit Grower’s Association (later Sunkist) who commissioned an advertising agency to market its fruit, a move which later tripled the sales of oranges. While commissioning an ad agency usually requires the kind of money that most farmers cannot afford to spend, we live in a world where social media has made reach relatively easier to achieve. But even then, a million farmers blasting the same message won’t translate into a popular product without…

Strategy. “Overnight” successes rarely, if ever, actually happen overnight. They are usually the product of careful planning, logistics, and rollout. Ask someone from advertising and they will tell you, in painstaking detail, the amount of effort it takes to mount a campaign. The same goes for social media influencers. Just as a successful farm requires a strategy for pre, during, and post harvest as well as business, sales, and marketing plans, the same will be needed for a hero product hoping to make it to the mainstream. But a million farmers blasting the same strategically planned message won’t translate into a popular product without considering…

Timely aesthetics. In this case, “timely” is just as important as “aesthetics.” What might be appealing to one person or group might not be appalling to the rest of the world, and this must be taken into consideration. This is one of the hardest parts of marketing, as it can involve crushing egos, especially if one prides oneself on their sense of taste. In a world where visuals are heightened, and in an era where everyone with a camera fancies themselves a professional photographer, it can be a challenge to stand out, but this can also be made easier by studying the preferred aesthetics of the audience one wants to reach and taking inspiration from that.

A good example in the Philippines is a gin made with ternate flowers. The product is a delicate blue and is sold in tasteful glass bottles with simple, sophisticated branding that marks it as a fun (not to mention pretty) drink. This is just an example of the possibilities out there.

Imagine if whole groups worked together to strategically promote the same thing? Who knows? We could have our very own orange juice phenomenon that will last past our lifetimes.

This article first appeared in Manila Bulletin’s Opinion section