Meat and Livestock Australia says the release of this year's much-anticipated "Australia Day" lamb television advertising campaign was delayed to protect the brand.
Traditionally the summer campaign is launched before January 26 and is usually based around a politically incorrect theme that generates widespread free publicity for lamb.
This year's campaign was launched on January 27 and MLA copped flak for the timing of the release and the content of this year's main advertisement from both within the lamb industry and elsewhere.
Typical of the response of producers on social media was Martin Oppenheimer, Petali, Walcha, NSW, who wrote on Twitter: "This is the first MLA lamb ad that has not gone viral for years. Geez, what a shocker. Lamb will survive but no chance for the marketing team."
And from leading southern NSW prime lamb producer and seedstock breeder, Tom Bull: "Lamb claimed Australia Day as its own. We appeared to just give it away."
MLA's chief marketing and communications officer, Lisa Sharp, said the media was dominated by stories about the horrific bushfires in the weeks leading up to Australia Day which would have made it difficult for the lamb television advertisement to "cut through the clutter" and make an impact.
Much of the success of the lamb campaigns had been built around the "talkability" generated in the media by the main television advertisement.
Community sentiment during this time was also "pretty flat" because of the fires (and ongoing drought) which wouldn't have sat well with the thrust of the summer lamb campaigns which was aimed at encouraging people to get together and party, Ms Sharp said.
Launching the lamb campaign at such a difficult time for many Australians risked the lamb industry (and MLA) being seen by consumers as insensitive and tone deaf.
Producers had invested too much money in the lamb "brand" to have it damaged in the eyes of consumers who were the ones putting the money into the value chain, she said.
This year's campaign steered away from the political incorrectness of past years and instead gently poked fun at the nation's obsession with screens, social media and selfies.
The ad revolves around an elite research team from "Lambalytica" who disrupt people's devices to get them back into the real world and talking face-to-face at a massive lamb barbecue.
Ms Sharp said MLA needed to explain to those unhappy producers about the timing of this year's launch and who was the target of the advertising.
She had been in charge of the summer lamb campaigns for the past five years and some had been a hit with producers and less so with consumers and vice versa.
The main television advertisement needed to be topical to generate "talkability", she said.
"The primary focus is making sure our (lamb) brand is relevant to consumers."
Ms Sharp said the biggest opportunity for lamb was metropolitan areas and MLA needed to understand what was important to those consumers.
Potential concepts for advertisements were researched within the target audiences and their response to this summer's campaign had been positive.
Typically the biggest consumers of lamb were an older demographic who were likely to eat lamb regardless.
As a result MLA was targeting a slightly younger demographic in metropolitan areas who were light to medium consumers of lamb.
Ms Sharp said the early years of the lamb campaigns (which were fronted by former AFL player and controversial media commentator, Sam Kekovich) made a direct call to arms to Australians to celebrate Australia Day by eating lamb.
But since 2016 this hadn't figured strongly in the campaigns but they had still had the desired impact on lamb sales.
She said the underlying thread in recent campaigns was bringing the national together in unity and lamb was the favourite meat when Australians got together to celebrate.
Notwithstanding this year's challenging times in the first half of January, the peak Sheep Producers Australia wants future summer lamb campaigns linked to Australia Day.
"As a policy we think lamb being associated with Australia Day is a fantastic thing and should be maintained the whole time," its acting CEO, Stephen Crisp, said.
The story Why the lamb campaign couldn't be launched before Australia Day first appeared on Farm Online.