It doesn’t happen often, but when it does – especially with a recognized name like Panera – it’s newsworthy. The Chicago Tribune reported this week that Panera’s ad agency, Cramer-Krasselt, was firing its client, calling the company "difficult."

It would be interesting to know whether the brainchild for Panera’s misleading advertising campaign came from the company or from the agency. However, based on conversations others in the ag media tried to have with the marketing folks at Panera, my tendency is to think it resided with the company.

Its “antibiotic-free” campaign made news, but it was on the backs of producers. All meat is antibiotic-free, but consumers were led to believe that Panera’s offerings were better than its competitors.

According to the Tribune article by Peter Krivkovich, chairman and CEO of Cramer-Krasselt, sent a memo to employees Wednesday morning saying the firm was resigning as lead creative agency after two years, and apparently, one too many headaches.

“The memo cites ‘the constant last-minute shifts in direction, the behind-the-scenes politics, the enormous level of subjectivity that disregards proof of performance — all churn people at a rate that becomes much too much even in this crazy business.’”

The “level of subjectivity” is of particular interest, since that was one of the points of contention with the Panera ad campaign. To refresh your memory, the little vignettes featured pigs and chickens on a conveyor belt, being injected with something and blown up like a balloon as they made their way to a giant packinghouse. It was the quintessential “big versus small,” “good versus evil” depiction, designed to separate Panera from other casual-dining restaurants. 

Panera has close to 1,800 restaurants in 45 states and Canada operating under the Panera Bread, Saint Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Café names. According to Krivkovich’s article, the company did $605 million in sales during the first quarter, an 8 percent year-over-year increase. But net income declined by 12 percent and sales growth is slowing.

Though it’s difficult to say what caused the decline in net income and sales growth, it would be nice to think the company’s efforts to deceive the public and criticize agriculture were less-than-successful. Perhaps the next agency will be able to right the ship and provide a more authentic, honest campaign.