Odd year brings a renewed Jersey Fresh campaign (Off the Secretary’s Desk)
(Editor’s note: Douglas Fisher is the New Jersey New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture.)
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture knows how adaptable our state’s farmers are and we strive to be just as adaptable to changes, even when they are the massive, overnight shifts brought on by COVID-19.
Yes, despite the widespread perception of government as entrenched and difficult to move, the reality is that a government agency can be nimble and adaptable when it needs to be.
Here we are in July, more than four months into the pandemic, and from the first day, our Department has had to readjust — everything from having most employees working most of the time from home to taking on new tasks such as getting cloth masks out to the county boards of agriculture to give to farmers who needed them.
In New Jersey, this is also traditionally the time of our farmers’ peak season for fresh produce coming into the marketplace. That means it’s also time for the massive promotional push through our Jersey Fresh advertising campaign, telling the public about the high quality and fabulous produce that comes from our farmers’ hard work.
Sweet corn, tomatoes, blueberries and peaches — along with dozens of other produce items — are all hitting store produce aisles, roadside stands, community farmers markets and just about any food retail location you can imagine.
In a “usual” year, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh campaign would herald the arrival of these iconic Jersey produce items since early June through billboards, radio spots and other traditional methods of reaching the public.
The billboards and radio spots are key in normal years, and they still have an important place in our promotional strategy. As traffic to the Jersey Shore builds each year, millions of eyes are on those big signs, especially the new brand of revolving-message billboards that change every 10 seconds.
Last year, our Jersey Fresh billboards had 137 million “impressions,” the total amount of times those billboard images hit people’s eyes.
Likewise, the most frequent place people listen to the radio is in their cars. As time behind the wheel increases, so does the importance of radio spots that tout New Jersey agricultural products.
But this is no “usual year.” The COVID-19 pandemic changed just about everything we think of as elements of a typical New Jersey summer.
That includes a drastic reduction in traffic on our roads since mid-March. By most estimates, the stay-at-home precautions and new work-from-home reality reduced traffic on New Jersey roadways by 70 to 80 percent. In short, that meant those 137 million billboard impressions were reduced by anywhere from 96 million to 110 million with the reduction in traffic.
For the NJDA, that meant a seismic shift in how we approached this spring and early summer’s Jersey Fresh advertising campaign. If 70 to 80 percent of road traffic was gone, we quickly realized that many billboards were going to be unseen and radio spots unheard.
Our farmers are nimble enough to quickly adjust to changes in methods of production and especially in how they market their products. Over the past several decades, they have embraced more direct-to-the-consumer sales, more integration of agri-tourism, and increased use of their raw products in making their own value-added offerings.
So, the Department committed itself to be just as adaptable to the nearly overnight change to our world brought on by COVID-19. We knew that many of the people who normally would see our billboards and hear our radio spots were now spending a LOT more time on their computers, either working from home or just surfing the web while waiting to return to their jobs.
So, the road forward was clear. Instead of the usual highways, the information superhighway became another viable path during this period. We had to shift a significant portion of our Jersey Fresh advertising from billboards to banners on websites and social media platforms.
It was more hyper-targeted and allowed us to more directly appeal to the customer base for New Jersey agricultural products. Targeting banners or display ads on specific websites that have a demonstrated audience of those primary household food purchasers means we are getting the message in front of the buying public at a more intimate and timely level.
And now, as our state moves forward trying to get back to normal, traffic is, and will continue to be, returning to our major roadways, meaning we can strike a better balance between billboards, radio and websites and social media pages.
With the recent advent of the “changeable” digital billboards, the shared cost with other advertisers makes them a more economical choice for getting the Jersey Fresh message out in front of a large number of eyes every day.
So, a lot of new users will be seeing and hearing more Jersey Fresh promotion of our state’s agricultural bounty than ever before. But that increase will come in more subtle ways.
It will be communication in a more personal way — on smart phones, tablets, through blogs. All of this might not be seen by our farmers and the general public in the usual way, but it will be in specialized and individualized lanes that better reach the likely produce purchaser.
On the farm, many of our agricultural operators have embraced “precision agriculture,” a broad term for better targeting the planting, tending and harvesting of crops, using new tools like drones. The Department, likewise, is moving to more “precision advertising,” less scattered and more targeted.
All of us know that farmers are the beacons of authenticity in our society. At the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, we are finding new, more targeted ways to tell people about the farms that increase the quality of life in New Jersey communities, driving home the message that their purchases of Jersey Fresh produce make it possible for farmers to continue serving that purpose.
Much like weeding in a farm’s fields aids in healthy plant growth, the Department is weeding through all the thousands of messages consumers see every day to make sure they are focused on the importance of New Jersey farms.
Our goal is to help New Jersey farmers have the best year possible, even if that year happens to be one of the most unusual we have ever seen.
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P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925