A wide range of factors have been influencing perceptions about the health and nutrition of Australian chicken. These include heavy competition from other meats; entrenched myths; lack of knowledge among healthcare professionals (HCPs) about its health benefits; growing “wellbeing and health consciousness” consumer trends.
Chicken needed a strong brand platform from which to deliver positive messages.
Reed Weir Communications (RWC) was engaged by The Australian Chicken Meat Federation (ACMF) to conduct a nutrition campaign to influence HCPs and general practitioners (GPs) in particular. The industry wanted to raise HCPs knowledge of chicken, reverse negative perceptions of it and increase recommendation of it to patients as a nutritional diet choice.
The longer term goal was to engage consumers around chicken’s health benefits, and drive increased purchase.
To provide a base for this, Australia’s first authoritative analysis of the nutritional content of chicken was commissioned.
The Nutrition Report formed the basis of the campaign involving: qualitative research, editorial, advertising, medical education module, viral marketing and broad consumer engagement.
Post-campaign research showed HCP targets improved their nutrition knowledge about chicken and were likely to recommend it as part of a healthy diet. Consumer engagement on the key health benefits was also achieved.
Nutritionally, the Australian population suffers from a range of diet-related medical conditions. One of the most prominent is obesity.
It is generally known that diets high in protein play a significant role in helping overweight and obese people lose weight and maintain weight loss.
These market conditions (obesity and eating protein for weight loss) presented an opportunity for the ACMF to help educate GPs and dietitians to enable them to provide advice to the public about chicken meat as a low fat protein food choice.
The campaign provided a strategic base for the ACMF to strengthen the equity of chicken on behalf of Australian growers and processors. Public Relations was needed to drive chicken’s credibility and bring the serious cut-through normally yielded by paid advertising campaigns.
Research was managed over two waves (May 2008 and November/December 2008) via an online quantitative questionnaire. Baseline qualitative research was conducted among GPs who managed or treated patients with diet or nutrition problems, as well as accredited practising dietitians. Outcomes from both arms of the research were used to inform the PR strategy and guide the tactical elements of the campaign.
Research aimed to assess attitudes regarding the nutritional benefits of chicken and enable benchmarks to be set for evaluation purposes. The research was also used to develop a valid and compelling promotional platform.
Pre-campaign results comparing proteins showed that other meats “owned” key nutritional health benefits e.g. red meat owns iron. It also showed that chicken meat had no definitive “nutrition” positioning.
GPs and dietitians were found to have an indifferent opinion of chicken, its nutritional benefits and its role in the diet. Generally, GPs ranked chicken behind fish and beef in terms of “likelihood to recommend to patients”.
Both GPs and dietitians were shown to be key influencers of consumer beliefs about food and the best professional groups to target for influencing consumer decisions.
Campaign planning also used information from previous focus groups (conducted at the end of 2007 with consumers, GP’s and dietitians) to test and rank some of the key nutritional messages about chicken. These were fed back into the campaign planning stage.
A separate study of Australian patients (who were overweight, hypertensive or had diabetes) showed that those who received counselling from a GP or dietitian were more likely to complete an intervention program and to lose more weight than those who received dietitian counselling alone (Pritchard et al. 1999). This was used to support the PR campaign.
RWC guided the development of a Nutrition Report to fill the information gap (highlighted by the research) about what was scientifically known about the nutrition benefits of chicken meat.
The National Centre for Excellence in Functional Food (NCEFF) was identified as the most capable organisation to research and write the Nutrition Report.
NCEFF is a joint venture between the Smart Foods Centre at University of Wollongong, CSIRO Human Nutrition, Food Science Australia and the Department of Primary Industries, Victoria.
NCEFF developed a fully-referenced, 4000-word report outlining the position of chicken in the Australian diet from a health and environmental perspective. It also methodically reviewed nutrition, health and food safety issues and enabled some common myths to be debunked.
The first phase of the PR campaign was targeted at dietitians, GPs and nutritionists as key influencers of consumer beliefs.
RWC knew that GPs were the first healthcare professional consulted about most health conditions and that 97 percent of consumers make an effort to change their lifestyle, based on their advice.
The second phase of the campaign was targeted at the main grocery buyer, female 25-55 and was implemented only once the second round of health care professional research was conducted and had shown a shift in attitudes.
The HCP target was important as a key influencer of consumer behaviour, and the main grocery buyer the key to driving healthcare professional advice into sales.
An educational, evidence-based strategy was delivered to HCPs. Securing media coverage before engaging HCPs was avoided given the importance of doctors and dietitians needing to be recruited as advocates through scientific evidence. Importantly, no Australian nutrition information relating to chicken meat existed before the campaign’s launch, so what was put in the hands of HCPs had to be credible and well-supported by evidence.
The HCP communication strategy was driven by RWC and integrated PR, direct mail promotion and advertising.
The Nutrition Report was at the heart of this and informed media relations, advertising, direct mail components and all online platforms (including YouTube, the ACMF website and the CPD website).
The Nutrition Report titled “Food, Health and Nutrition: Where Does Chicken Fit?” showed chicken meat as one of the leanest proteins with a favourable ratio of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids, but a food that delivers more essential vitamins and minerals than generally recognised.
On RWCs recommendation, it was distributed as a supplement in the May 2008 issue of the GP trade journal, Australian Family Physician (AFP) which is mailed directly to 37,000 GPs and specialists.
Copies were also sent to representatives of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), Food Safety Australia New Zealand, National Heart Foundation, Australian Food and Grocery Council and universities nationwide.
RWC managed the creation of a direct mail communications piece to send to dietitians via their peak body’s newsletter. The Nutrition Report was inserted into the Dietitian Association of Australia (DAA) annual conference showbag and ACMF sponsored the conference lunch.
RWC managed the creation of a direct mail piece comparing the fat content of different cuts of meat which was mailed directly to GPs, supported by a call to action via an educational competition to maximise engagement.
All producer-members of the ACMF received a copy of the Nutrition Report as did media in a plan that targeted mainstream, trade and consumer media, specialty press, and peak bodies nationally.
Editorial placements were purchased in trade journals and advertisements were placed in the GP press.
Dr Peter Clifford, Research Director at CSIRO Human Nutrition, endorsed the Nutrition Report in its foreword and worked with RWC to provide an audio grab for broadcast media. His Nutrition Report foreword was adapted and used across the ACMF website and in direct mail to dietitians and GP’s.
RWC arranged meetings for ACMF to meet selected GPs and dietitians. As the campaign moved into its consumer phase, this media program was extended to key food writers on publications like the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Living section; Wellbeing Magazine and Men’s Health.
RWC worked with an accredited medical communications provider to create a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Program recognised by the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP) on nutrition education and counselling. This module made the Nutrition Report a tangible educational tool for GPs that provided them with CPD points. The CPD module was launched via a dedicated website www.gpnutrition.com.au and a series of ads in Australian Doctor drove awareness.
The PR education campaign was implemented whilst the advertising campaign ‘Fly Through Your day’ was executed. RWC managed a process to align all content with the Nutrition Report.
A second wave of research was conducted between the HCP and Consumer Phases to gauge HCP behavioural change.
RWC developed a consumer brochure and distributed in April 2008 to 1,550 GP surgeries nationally to promote content from the Nutrition Report.
Nutrition communications were driven at a consumer level at the Food Farm Pavilion at the Royal Easter Show through the consumer brochure and a commissioned video clip called ‘Eat This Chicken’ highlighting health benefits. This edgy, three-minute clip was launched onto YouTube and via www.chicken.org.au to virally drive broad consumer awareness.
The chicken communications campaign has positively influenced GPs nutritional perceptions of chicken and the increased propensity to recommend it as part of a healthy diet (see Appendix A).
For GPs, fish, beef and lamb had not shifted a great deal since research at the beginning of the campaign, which strengthens the notion that communications have had a direct effect on how GPs view chicken and its role in a healthy and well balanced diet.
Results confirm that the communications campaign for chicken has impacted on GPs perceptions of, and behaviour around, chicken. Chicken is now seen as being equal to beef in terms of nutritional value and ideal weekly consumption for patients.
Dietitians had a more positive attitude towards chicken than GPs initially and so were a more difficult audience to move.
However, the communications campaign had a positive impact on their perceptions of chicken, particularly in its nutritional importance across different patient types and their likelihood to recommend it as part of a healthy and well balanced diet.
Overall research concluded that the strategic direction underpinning chicken advertising and communications has proven successful. The campaigns have demonstrated a positive impact on both audiences in regards to their understanding of chicken, its benefits, and their recommendations to patients and clients. (Jigsaw research – see Appendix A)
www.gpnutrition.com.au received 72 visits to the site in the first 18 days by GP’s to access the nutrition education CPD module (see Appendix A).
www.chicken.org.au is a very popular www with high traffic. The nutrition focused video clip ‘Eat This Chicken’ has had over 420 hits on You Tube and currently 1,208 hits on www.
More than 300,000 people were exposed to positive chicken messages at the Food Farm Pavilion at the Royal Easter Show (see Appendix A). A total of 3,335 patients and 7,049 doctors were exposed to the brochure in GP surgeries nationally in the month of April 2008 alone.
A media release highlighting the completion of the Nutrition Report was issued to media announcing news of the report and secured 28 media clips (see coverage in Appendix A for selection).
The ACMF Nutrition Campaign achieved all of its objectives.
Longitudinal analysis of GP attitudes in pre and post-HCP campaign research showed significant positive shifts in attitudes in three of four key areas.
Dietitian attitudes shifted significantly in the key area of chicken being regarded as nutritionally important.
Chicken’s importance to GPs as a nutritional choice climbed to equal second-ranked beef and out-rated lamb and pork. Its ranking with dietitians (considered harder to move) remained stable.
Meeting this key objective of significant attitudinal shift among HCPs enabled the campaign to roll out to consumers via (Infomed) brochures which are distributed in doctor waiting rooms.
The content of the Infomed brochure, based on the Nutrition Report, was an essential ‘engagement’ tool reassuring consumers that eating chicken was indeed a great component to a healthy diet. The brochure was leveraged at the Royal Easter Show and delivered nationally to all chicken meat producers to use as part of their marketing campaigns.
Media coverage (see Appendix A) has stated that chicken now out sells beef as Australian’s number-one meat of choice and is more popular than beef or lamb. Given there are no independent data on production in the time frame of the campaign, industry estimates for consumption remain the best guide and are showing an upward trend, assisted by economic factors.
The nutrition campaign gave chicken a strong brand platform, especially for future consumer communications. It achieved clear, positive positioning, increased visibility and gave new reasons for the consumer to “believe” in chicken.
At a time when competition from other meats was high and consumers are becoming more conscious about their diet, the fact that chicken sales remained strong and growing is evidence that the communications have reached our broader target audience and encouraged sales.