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Beef Ban Lifted: The selling of the British cow

LIFTING the export ban on British beef is one thing. Getting consumers across Europe to eat it is another. How, for example, do you say it is completely safe to eat beef without hinting at the possibility that it might have been potentially life threatening in the first place?

That was just one of the issues confronting several London advertising agencies briefed yesterday by The Independent to produce, in just a few hours, a campaign that would tempt the continent. Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper came up with two approaches. According to creative partner Mark Wnek, one ("We're still mad. Our beef isn't.") attempts to diffuse the fears surrounding the product by dealing with them directly. This was the agency's choice.

The second ("For the perfect joint of beef, grill thoroughly for two years") is a more scholarly" pitch which would allow some scope for explaining the controls in place. But the common theme is humour. "The best route, route one, is to dismiss it all with humour, to diffuse the situation and accentuate the positive feelings about beef," said Mr Wnek.

"If you try to be too sensible you will end up with something very technical and serious, which, as far as food is concerned, would leave a bad taste in the mouth." Murray Chick, planning director of Walsh Trott Chick Smith, believes it is best not to advertise at all. "You don't want to admit there was a problem in the first place," he said.

"Beef should sneak back into Europe rather than have a spotlight shone on it. If a client was to insist on a campaign, then the practical, sensible, grown up way would be to focus on selling on all beef and not just British. If you wanted to be braver still, then the only way to do it is with humour."

Mark Robinson, marketing director of J Walter Thompson, said he would be tempted to steer clear of the safety issue altogether. "British farming has a good heritage - modern equipment, rolling fields. I would play up the Britishness of the farming landscape, the fine countryside, the free range herds."

There are as yet no immediate plans for a high profile advertising campaign. "We do not have a mammoth marketing plan on the stocks waiting to go," explained spokesman for the Meat and Livestock Commission. "We didn't know when the ban would be lifted and in any case most people agree that a quiet approach is more effective than a mega ad campaign."