Is There Any Real Marketing Nutrition In “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner?”

CI-Group, a New Jersey advertising agency, is always on the lookout for examples of great creative strategy. Today we talk about weak creative strategy, or simply pointing out the attributes of your product or service, by highlighting the “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner?” campaign.

beef-its-whats-for-dinnerWhat was on your TV viewing menu in May 1992? As Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby were saying their goodbyes to audiences, Jay Leno and MTV’s “The Real World” were preparing their debuts. That year’s presidential primaries dominate newscasts. The Chicago Bulls began the playoffs on their way to a second straight NBA championship.

And in between the political scorekeeping, teary farewells and slam dunks, a new round of TV commercials premieres with a meaty tagline: “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.”

The campaign, launched by Leo Burnett on behalf of the Beef Industry Council to play up the benefits of lean protein in U.S. diets, had Aaron Copland’s jaunty “Hoedown” as its soundtrack. And we’re guessing that if you played that music for consumers in a certain demographic segment, and wired their brains to machines that could depict their thoughts on video, you’d end up with quick-cut images of huge slabs of brisket and sirloin on a crowded picnic table.

Not bad for a campaign that can be argued is the product of weak strategy.

The ad campaign was indeed effective. It won multiple awards. It survived into the 21st century. The Beef Council itself, citing statistics but not their source, says 88 percent of Americans recognized the “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” slogan.

But those very words don’t carry a whole lot of marketing nutritional goodness. There’s nothing really new there; no groundbreaking health studies are touted, no celebrity testimonials are featured. The ads simply asks people to consider beef for dinner. The ad copy itself didn’t feature a multi-point assault rebutting those early 90’s diet experts who were counting calories, cholesterol and colon health related to red meat. The political teams for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton may have been weighing the pros and cons of going negative, but the Beef Council’s campaign was overwhelmingly positive: lean beef is loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, single servings compare favorably with grilled chicken, it’s affordable and good for growing families.

The Copland music coupled with the images played up visions of Americana. The voiceovers by actors who had worked in westerns – first Robert Mitchum, then after his death, Sam Elliott – helped hammer those subliminal points home even deeper.

“Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” took a product that consumers were already familiar with and gave it a common-sense, down-home glaze. Simple marketing and a little creativity resulted in a memorable ad campaign that made cuts of beef the stars of the show.

CI-Group, a New Jersey advertising agency, provides digital marketing and advertising consulting to Fortune 2000 companies in a wide range of industries. Founded nearly 30 years ago and based in Whitehouse, N.J., CI-Group is recognized as a top advertising agency specializing in marketing strategies, event marketing, promotions, direct marketing, digital printing, warehousing and fulfillment. Companies seeking an award-winning interactive agency thatmerges creative strategies with effective tactics should call 908-534-6100 or visit

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