Emily Meredith
Emily Meredith

My husband has been trying to cheer me up for the last week. You see, I've been pretty much bedridden (after a bad fall — don't worry it's only temporary!) — alone at home; just me, our pug and my laptop. It's been pretty frustrating for a workaholic like me who doesn't like to be kept down. 

A couple days ago, an email from my hubby pinged into my inbox--inside was a video that had just gone viral. It was of the Holderness Family’s annual Christmas newsletter--done in video form.

The video is ridiculous, heartwarming, clever, unique all rolled into one. I seriously suggest you watch it if you haven’t already (as I mentioned the video went viral and the family has now been featured on pretty much every major news network in the United States).

Now before you write this blog off as something I cooked up while on some seriously strong painkillers, give me a minute.

I’ve had a lot of time to think the past week, and I’ve been looking at the year in review. It’s been a pretty mixed bag for agriculture in the public’s eye. This year we’ve had countless undercover videos shot, we’ve gone to war with the activist community over legislation they call “Ag Gag,” we’ve battled misinformation in the media on topics from antibiotics, to sustainability, to animal welfare.

We’ve been ridiculed and caricatured by the likes of Chipotle and other restaurant chains (yes, Big Burrito, you’re definitely off our Christmas card list!) marketing to that pesky generation of which I am a part: millennials.

And we’ve struggled to bridge the gap, pop the “ag bubble,” identify our true stakeholders or whatever other euphemism you want to use for actually being able to communicate a message to consumers.

Watching the Holderness Christmas video “Christmas Jammies,” I had the same thought over and over again: why can’t someone do this for agriculture?

Don’t get me wrong, folks like the Peterson Farm Brothers and others have done a wonderful job adding a playful side to agriculture and trying to connect with people outside our usual circles. But we need to do more--and we can learn some lessons from Christmas Jammies.

Yes, it’s the holiday season, and it’s a cute family, but that’s not the only reason that this video caught on. It’s a family that had no intention of “going viral”--they were just making a Christmas newsletter for their friends, professional contacts, and relatives. They were authentically goofy--discussing topics that could be considered taboo (vasectomy, anyone?) and updating people on their family’s life the past year.

We in ag could take a page from the Holderness family and try on some authenticity in 2014. I think we need to start discussing our issues, on our terms, in our words. It’s not all fun and games on the farm--you and I both know that--but consumers don’t! Most have no meaningful point of reference on real farm life.

My good friend and a speaker at the upcoming 2014 Alliance Stakeholders Summit in May, David Wescott, recently gave a talk to public relations professionals about the continuing trend of isolation in online communities.

Blogging about this after the event, David wrote: “as more people use curation tools to screen out everything but the information that most closely fits their interests and worldview, we speak only with like-minded people.  These smaller groups collectively move toward more extreme viewpoints.  We begin to find an ‘otherness’ in people.”

It’s becoming more and more challenging to break through the barriers that people have set up to block out everything except their very limited world view. We instinctively do it every day: I bet many of you reading this immediately thought that Christmas Jammies has nothing to do with agriculture (come on, admit it).

And you’re right--but that doesn’t change the fact that Christmas Jammies in all its holiday ridiculousness also managed to be one of those rare events to truly break through barriers. After all, it was featured on both Fox News and MSNBC (and we all know how polar opposite those two are). Even my very Jewish mother-in-law emailed it to me and thought it was “quite cute.”

While there’s no silver bullet for creating viral content, I think a lot of the reason Christmas Jammies was an overnight success had to do with its authenticity, its relate-ability and its humor. It has chutzpah, which (loosely translated from yiddish) means: “is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad.”

The video was outrageous, courageous and above all, didn’t take itself too seriously. So that’s my wish for you, agriculture, in 2014. Let’s take the road a little less traveled, take some risks, and get out of our communications rut. It’s time we shook things up a bit. Let’s break down barriers with authenticity, humor and audacity. Let’s start to tell our story, on our terms.

And let’s do it in our Christmas Jammies.

Happy Holidays and heres to an incredible 2014!