Local industry to launch advertising campaign
The three-year strategy, paid for with $30 million from BP, aims to restore Gulf seafood's reputation, which was wounded by the 2010 oil spill. The campaign will launch television commercials in the first quarter of 2012, as well as print advertisements showing crawfish and blue crabs splashing around in clear water. Billboards will be featured along highways statewide, with portraits of chefs and fishermen encouraging consumers with catchphrases like, “Put the ‘bon' in ‘bon appetit.' ”
“You're going to see a call to action with everything we do,” said George Graham, CEO of the Graham Group, a Lafayette-based advertising agency spearheading the campaign. “We're going to encourage consumers to ask for local seafood by name and check the labels.”
Randy Pausina, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said it was too early to say whether the oil spill has had an effect on the area's seafood population, but did admit that the population of marine wildlife decreased significantly after the spill. Shrimp was hit hardest; pre-spill, there were more than 61 million pounds in commercial landings, and in 2010, that plummeted to 27 million. Shrimp and crab populations have bounced back in 2011 so far, but are not back to 2009 levels. In the ongoing white shrimp season, shrimpers have complained of low catch numbers.
“This process takes time, and we feel confident that in three years, we're going to get a good picture of seafood in Louisiana,” Pausina said. “Was it too much fresh water, or a drought, or a freeze, or is it a direct result of the spill? We just don't know enough yet.”
Not everyone believes that. Margaret Curole, of Galliano, was a shrimper for more than 20 years, but hasn't eaten a bite of seafood since the oil spill. She doesn't trust the standards the state is using, and has heard too many stories about fishermen finding shrimp with no eyes and fish with sores on them.
“If a shrimp doesn't have eyes, I'm not eating it,” she said. “BP gave a grant to the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board because they don't want to deal with the perception that seafood might be damaged. It was one of the first checks they wrote, because they don't want to pay more in the long run.”
“We're correcting the negative perception nationwide by putting forth a campaign that brings our seafood to light,” Sunseri said. “Everyone has to share that message, from the housewife to the restaurants to the governor of our state, that Louisiana seafood is the best there is.”
New market research suggests that nationally, consumers no longer worry about oil contamination in gulf seafood, according to Joanne McNeely, seafood marketing coordinator of the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, which represents five states.
Sixty percent of 1,800 consumers polled for the group's study said that the oil spill never affected their seafood consumption, and an additional 10 percent said that they had been concerned about gulf seafood safety in the past, but it was no longer an issue for them.
She added that 20 percent of those surveyed eat 46 percent of the market's seafood. The consumers McNeely's group would target are a population she identified as “seafoodies.” The group, which already consumes seafood at least 20 times in the course of three months, consists mostly of college-educated, affluent young adults, she said, and they prefer to prepare it themselves at home, which means the marketing campaign will include recipe suggestions.
“It's not a very large audience, but they eat a lot of seafood, and we want them to eat more of ours,” she said, adding that shrimp was by far the most popular of all the seafoods. “We need to promote shrimp, because it's the most popular, and there's already an association with the Gulf Coast there.”