Rebranding the wrong perception

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “rural Australia”? Maybe it’s huge cattle stations, farm land, small communities, women’s or sports clubs? The Farmer Wants a Wife? Or boredom, decline, depression and drought?

The Australian National University conducted a survey in 2009 on this exact topic – the perception the general public has of rural Australia. According to this survey, Australian’s appear to have a fairly solid perception of what ‘rural Australia’ is, with the majority being able to correctly answer basic questions about the rural community (you can try for yourself below and see how you rate!). The survey also found that public opinion was divided about the accuracy of the portrayal of rural life in TV dramas. Apparently, McLeod’s Daughters is pretty realistic for some people.

Sounds like we’re a pretty cluey bunch.

However, only 1, 200 people were surveyed. Although the response rate was really high (40.3%), from a population of over 22 million (in 2009) that equates to only 0.0054% of the population.  Which isn’t exactly a true representation of the Australian population.

So how accurate is the survey? How do Australian’s really perceive life in the rural community?

At the 2011 Annual Forum of the Grower Group Alliance, Cathy Bolt (the CBH Group media contact) introduced the idea of branding and how agriculture as a whole needs “rebranding”. The most important aspect stressed was the fact that a brand is not just a logo; your brand is your product, your service, everything that you say or do, all of the time (not just when you feel like it). Everybody in the company, sector, etc., needs to be “living the brand”. In other words, you have to live the perception you want people to have about you. Unfortunately, the general perception of ‘urbanites’ is that agriculture and the rural community is in decline. This is simply not true and means that we need to challenge the myths currently held by the public.

Professor Matthew Tonts, from The University of Western Australia, discussed the economics and social dynamics of rural communities. It was interesting to discover during the forum that agricultural regions are in fact not declining; that they are only changing and undergoing a restructure. As larger farms are more profitable, “sponge” towns or communities have been created. This basically means that some (more profitable) towns are “swallowing” others, forming larger towns and causing a shift in the location of the rural population. Please note. Change; not decline.

But change is often the hardest thing to face. The shifting Australian deomographic (i.e. rapid growth of the 70-plus cohort and the exodus of the 15 – 35 age bracket) doesn’t help.

So how do you think we can “rebrand” agriculture? Even if you aren’t in the industry, how do you view agriculture? What ideas do you have?

Questionnaire: Rate your ag knowledge! True or false?

  1. More than one in five Australian workers are working on farms.
  2. Most of Australia’s exports are farm products
  3. Australian farmers produce more than three times as much food and fibre as Australia consumes.
  4. The average age of Australian farmers is approximately 35.
  5. Australia is the one of the most urbanised countries in the world

11 comments on “Rebranding the wrong perception

  1. I think everyone is terrified of being wrong. I’ll bite, I won’t even look anything up. Tell me how I do:
    1. False
    2. True
    3. True
    4. True
    5. True

    Otherwise, I think its rather difficult for urbanites such as ourselves to soak up an accurate portrayal of rural life, primarily due to the lack of motivation to do so. You mentioned the exodus of younger people from agriculture, I guess there is a perception that the city is where its at? For the same reason, city dwellers are unlikely to want to find out about rural life.

  2. I don’t really have a good notion of australian agriculture. I do have a really good idea of it in Canada but I don’t know how they would compare. I bet here the crop growers are less worried about spring and fall frosts.

    What I thought was the most interesting part of the blog was the whole idea of rebranding a profession (like agriculture). This made me think of the various different brands that exist. For example marketing (begin awesome at branding) has branded itself as being sexy. My question then is ‘what has science been branded as: nerdy, fun, essential, dangerous, stuffy?’ Would Science benefit from re-branding, or perhaps does only a few sub-disciplinaries need rebranding. I think nanotechnology has a sexier branding then organic chemistry? Then again I’m a plant and microbial geneticist who hated organic chemistry so it,s possible that I am just extremely biased.

    • shortfletch I would like to think that science is being rebranded with programs like the 7pm project having scientists on the program. But there is another part of me that thinks maybe science isn’t being rebranded, maybe nerdy is just becoming cooler.

      Back to farming, I think that any form of publicity about farming is good and shows like Farmer Wants a Wife and McLeod’s Daughters can only improve the image (even if they aren’t 100% realistic).

      Also, here are my answers:
      1. True
      2. True
      3. True
      4. True
      5. False


      • 1. False
        2. True
        3. True
        4. True.
        5. True

        Also, my housemates would agree that Farmer Wants a Wife has definitely made the industry sexier! If only Beauty and the Geek was with hotter geeks…

  3. Thank you all for your comments!

    I’ll post the answers to the questions on Wednesday. Also, anyone who replies, with answers by Wednesday’s class will get chocolate! I’m resorting to bribes.

    You all pose interesting points. I agree that one of the major issues is that ‘urbanites’ are becoming more and more disengaged with agriculture – which is one of the reasons I think ‘rebranding’ is a good idea! Like Madeleine said, maybe nerdy is becoming cooler, but isn’t that in itself a form of ‘rebranding’?

    • Brogan, that is very true. I didn’t see it like that before you mentioned it! When you talk about rebranding agriculture. Maybe they could have the same tactics as scientists- if you can’t change the image, then find a way to play up the faults of the old image and make them work for you.

  4. I would do almost anything for chocolate!

    1. False
    2. False
    3. True
    4. True (thank you farmer wants a wife aha)
    5. False

    I love rural and remote Australia but I have to admit I have a certain perspective of it that I now think is probably wrong!!

  5. I think re branding of Australian Agriculture is a good idea. After the whole Animal export issue came up a few months ago I realised, after reading social media and blog comments, that a lot of Australian urbanites view farmers as backward-thinking and uncaring about the welfare of their stock.

    I think this is because farmers view animals/the land in a different way to urbanites. I once looked after a friend’s farm, and after saving three wounded sheep from being stuck in the creek bed, as soon he got back he shot them all! To an urbanite this could seem very uncaring, but to the farmer it’s just logical, he knows it’s not viable for him to hand feed three sheep (who may die from infections anyway) when there’s 10,000 other sheep to look after.

    Re branding would mean more Australian’s would understand Agriculture, and understanding can only be a good thing.


  6. 1. True.
    2. True.
    3. True.
    4. True.
    5. True.

    This is a great post Brogan, because I think this idea of rebranding can be applied to a whole host of other science issues. I remember reading something about how Climate Change skeptics have managed to give words like “global warming” poor connotations, and that climate change activists would do well to first change how people think about climate change, ie, to rebrand the whole issue.

    I think that agriculture definitely needs a little bit of rebranding, as in the near future we may face a global food crisis with the growing population. Agriculture doesn’t have to be just large farms in rural places; it can be small, concentrated farms in cities. If we rebrand agriculture from “big farms fill the supermarkets” to “growing food is cool, and something we can all do”, we can start to fill the gap in food production that will likely occur with the population boom.

  7. Hi everyone!

    I think it’s really interesting that shows like The Farmer Wants a Wife has actually taught people about the rural community.

    Here are the answers:
    1. False
    2. False
    3. True
    4. False
    5. True

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