Have you seen the “United We Steak” commercials? Cows are making a comeback this season, as the beef industry touts its status as the number 1 grilled meat of summer. They have crafted all 50 states out of steaks and even have a U.S.-shaped one. Pretty cool.
Before I get too far into the novelty beef products lighting up the marketing scene this summer, I must digress. As a teenager, I was part of my high school band’s flag corps. We were unconventional, to say the least. We had all the grace of drunken flamingos, and the sheen from rows of braces gleaming effortlessly from our numerous mouth breathers was blinding. As you probably guessed, we twirled flags because we couldn’t be cheerleaders. We even had two guys on the crew. They twirled flags because they couldn’t date cheerleaders.
After weeks of practicing the basics and finally being able to toss a flag without someone landing in the nurse’s office, it was time to put our skills to music. Our well-intentioned director was a 22-year-old ingenue with an apparent love of western stock shows. The problem with that is that we were in Central Virginia, a good 50 miles from the closest cow. Our idea of a cowboy was Billy Ray Cyrus. Nevertheless, our “big number” was choreographed to “Hoedown” from “Rodeo” by Aaron Copeland, or what is commonly known as the song from the “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” marketing campaign. To tie in the look, we had western uniforms. Our director accidentally ordered men’s clothing, which arrived late, so the day before our first performance, we were trying on 50-gallon hats and button-up shirts with long sleeves made out of the heaviest denim known to man. (I think they had been formerly used as flack jackets.) The pants, not to be outdone in awkwardness, boasted a 57-thread-count polyester suitable only for Halloween costumes that biodegrade in sunlight. It was only the deepest of black dyes that actually held them together.
So there we were – on the football field in September in Virginia in 90-degree heat and personal sauna chambers, AKA: our uniforms. The director knew she had screwed the pooch, but it was too late. We stepped onto the center of the field. We held our heads high with sweat glistening in the autumn evening. The music started. We marched. Our hats slipped down over our eyes. We tripped over our sloppy pants. We sauntered out of formation. Imagine the most emabrrassing scene from a 1980s “coming of age” movie, and this topped it. Students laughed. Parents experienced shock and awe. But we finished the song. No one died. And I even caught my tossed flag.
Were mistakes made? Yes. Did we learn something? Yes, always order your uniforms early and check the sizing. Did this story have anything to do with beef? Well, every time I hear the “beef song” I laugh and fondly remember coming through one of the weirdest phases in my life. And it makes me realize that… when cattle farmers pick a song they really stick to it! That was decades ago, people! And they are still using that same catchy ballet tune. I guess if it works, it works. Far be it from me to criticize good marketing.
The new marketing trick, however, is the creative steak grooming. It’s cute and oddly unifying. How many parents are going to explain to their kids that the ribeye they’re chomping was purchased due to a commercial in which the shapes for all the states are represented in meat form? Or that “Hoedown” was written by one of the most famous American ballet composers at the request of Agnes de Mille, and now it makes us hungry? None. You’re just going to buy a beef filet because the steak of Texas is impressive. Hawaii? Amazing. Colorado is – you guessed it – a rectangle. Don’t get state envy, though. Our great state can give you the confidence you need to trim a New York strip into Colorado right on your own back patio. Now join with me in watching the catchy video below, imagine clumsy teenagers twirling flags to the tune, and see if you can spot Colorado. After all, “United We Steak.”