You know that old adman’s mantra “get ‘em while they’re young”? Whoever’s doing Chick-fil-A’s brand management took that to heart. Kids are taught to like barnyard animals, and some fast-food companies get to associate themselves with this bucolic vision of meat-making without even trying. McDonald’s lucked out that its founders just happened to have more or less the same name as Old MacDonald, who, we’ve heard, had a farm. (Or was it luck? Hmmmmmm.) But Chick-fil-A wasn’t so fortunate. Instead, the company’s tried a different strategy: releasing a version of the classic kid’s book The Jolly Barnyard branded with the company’s logo.
It’s a pretty insidious idea, considering that mass-produced chicken sandwiches and nuggets generally don’t come from chickens that have spent their lives pecking around farmyards. Of course, that’s exactly why a company like Chick-fil-A might want to associate its brand with happy farms. David Sirota writes at Salon:
They don’t want kids to equate a Chick-fil-A sandwich with inhumane treatment of chickens in crowded factory farms — they want kids to equate that sandwich with the page in the “Jolly Barnyard” where Farmer Brown feeds his chickens a treat while they roam free. They don’t want kids to equate a Chick-fil-A meal with the unsustainable and often unsafe monoculture practices of corporate agribusiness — they want kids to equate that meal with the agriculturally diverse operations of individuals like Farmer Brown.
The scary thing is that this works, on some level. Sirota knows from experience:
How this fast-food branded book got into our house, I have no idea — we are vegetarians and have never set foot in a Chick-fil-A either before or after CEO Dan Cathy’s grotesque comments about equal rights. But somehow — maybe it was a gift? — this book is here, with Cathy’s mug smiling at me and my son from the first page on the nights we read it. Which, lately, has been every night.
It’s been that way because my son loves the book, and I’m too much of a pushover to say “no.” I’m also thankful that he wants to read anything, so I go ahead and read it to him.
One day, that kid’s going to see the Chick-fil-A and get a warm fuzzy feeling inside and not quite know why. But maybe he’ll buy a sandwich. Or maybe he’ll stick to his vegetarian upbringing and stick to a lemonade and fries. He’ll be happy eating it — even if by then he knows better about Chick-fil-A — and he’ll never quite know why.