Can Free Bacon Solve a PR Crisis?
Free bacon offer comes after Smithfield gets hit by animal welfare investigation and nuisance lawsuits
If you spent any time on the internet in the earlier part of the 2010’s, you know that bacon is “le epic”. It’s the foundation for fad diets, a decent hangover cure, and just a good way to get your day on the right track. But is the potential allure of unlimited bacon enough to distract consumers from bad press?
That’s the unspoken conceit behind Smithfield Foods’ recent “Bacon for Life” contest. Between now and the end of 2018, bacon lovers can purchase a package of Smithfield’s bacon and submit its code to be entered into a prize drawing. The ultimate winner will receive one free package of bacon a week for fifty years (a cash value of over $20,000), which is presumably the maximum length of time before eating 16 slices of bacon every seven days would kill you. Five entrants will win bacon for a year. Other prizes include a cornhole set, koozies, and a “bacon bicycle.”
“At Smithfield, we celebrate bacon on a daily basis and are inspired by the passion people have for it,” senior director of brand marketing Michael Merritt said in a press release. “The bacon phenomenon is here to stay and the Bacon for Life sweepstakes is our opportunity to reward those bacon loyalists who have supported Smithfield over the years from early morning breakfasts to late-night snacks and every meal in between.”
Recent events suggest that the effort might be more of an attempt to shore up brand loyalty and inflate sales after a string of recent setbacks for the world’s largest pork producer. An investigation by animal welfare collective Direct Action Everywhere revealed that several of Smithfield’s North Carolina production facilities confined mother pigs in “gestation crates”, an inhumane practice that offers caged mothers no space to turn around and leaves infant piglets at risk of crushing. What’s worse, the revelation seems to run counter to Smithfield’s 2007 promise to eradicate a practice that University of Cambridge animal behaviorist Donald Broom described as “much worse than severely beating an animal.”
To add insult to animal injury, a string of nuisance lawsuits will force Smithfield to pay damages to neighbors near its stinky industrial hog farms in North Carolina. The chief complaint from neighbors centered of the stench emanating from open-air pits of hog waste, which Smithfield claims is the only cost-effective way to dispose of hog waste. State courts capped damages at $75 million, and North Carolina passed legislation that made future nuisance suits against giant agribusinesses all but impossible. However, a federal jury in a more recent case subsequently declared that Smithfield owes its neighbors an astounding $473.5 million.
With all that on Smithfield’s plate, giving away more than $20,000 in bacon seems like a small investment meant to generate some positive publicity and consumer goodwill. Given our collective love of bacon, it’s unlikely that Americans would suddenly rise up and take an ethical stance against our biggest purveyor of salty pork anyway. But it does go to show that nobody’s crazy enough to just give bacon away out of purely altruistic motives.