Pink Slimed

Diction matters.

By now we’ve all heard about pink slime, the reclaimed beef product made from meat trimmings that are heated, separated from  fat, treated to kill bacteria and added to ground beef. Federal food inspectors have deemed the stuff safe. People have eaten it for years without harm.

Now, two months after ABC News reported on pink slime, the company that makes it is in a tail spin.

Beef Products Inc. announced this month that it was closing plants in Kansas, Texas and Iowa and trimming manpower at its corporate office, the Associated Press reported. It is drastically curtailing production of what it calls “finely textured beef.” Despite the absence of a health risk, the public’s focus on pink slime has been more damaging to BPI than the Gulf Oil Spill was to British Petroleum.

The big takeaway? For some observers, it’s the power of social media to galvanize millions of people around an idea and radically change public perception and behavior.

Fair enough. The Internet is a powerful medium. I suspect, though, that a similar series of reports aired when network television dominated electronic media might have caused people to recoil in a similar  way–if those reports called it “pink slime.”

Whoever coined the term, made of two simple, single-syllable words–a common adjective and noun–did so to devastating effect. People are first and foremost emotional animals, and the term “pink slime” delivered a ninja blow to the emotional solar plexus of millions of people. Hamburger eaters everywhere gagged.

BPI has made a rational case for its product, which is safe and environmentally friendly, in so far as it reduces waste. Logic didn’t stand a chance, however, and neither did finely textured beef.

This is a powerful lesson for communicators. To reach and persuade an audience, choose the right words and make an emotional connection.

Posted in Editorial on 05/15/2012 05:37 pm