Maple Leaf Foods pushes carbon neutrality during the Super Bowl

The company's second big game ad aims to drives awareness of its new sustainability targets announced in November.
Maple Leaf

Maple Leaf Foods made its second-ever Super Bowl appearance on Sunday with a “quieter” spot aimed at getting its new sustainability message to stand out amid the “noise” of one of the biggest advertising moments of the year.

The meat company worked with Sid Lee on “Not Just Little Things,” a 30-second spot featuring a kitchen strewn with checklists, food scraps in an organics bin, reusable containers and packaging in a blue bin – a nod to the various small steps consumers have begun to take to reduce their environmental footprint. It ends by reminding viewers that Maple Leaf Foods is now formally carbon neutral – a milestone it claims to be the first “major” food company in the world to achieve, and one it first made public in November.

“The core of the message really is acknowledging the efforts that Canadians are doing everyday and introducing the concept of what we’re doing as a company and brand in this space,” says D’Arcy Finley, VP marketing at Maple Leaf Foods, who notes it is the company’s first mainstream ad pushing its carbon neutral message. “Basically, we’re their allies as we head into the future.”

Unlike like many of the quirkier ads the Super Bowl has become known for, Finley says Maple Leaf decided to take a “quieter” approach in order to stand out. “On a day where a lot of brands try to out-yell each other and celebrate consumption and maybe even encourage over-consumption, we really wanted to break through with a more sincere message about what we care about right now, what we believe our customers and Canadian families care about, which is the environment.”

The ad, he says, is a departure from the company’s 2019’s Super Bowl spot – its first to air during the big game – which positioned Maple Leaf as an “ally to parents that want better options.” That work revolved around the idea that children can be extremely picky eaters, presenting a common challenge facing even the most well-intentioned parents.

Last year’s effort has been deemed a success by Maple Leaf. The commercial made the list of YouTube’s top 10 ads watched by Canadians in 2019, received more than 3.5 million complete views on social channels, and became the most organically shared and commented on video in the company’s history, according to the company. But those results did not have a significant impact on the creative approach this year, according to Finley. “The brand is in a different place a year later, which we’re excited about. And as such, we have a different story to tell.”

As much as it wants to push its own carbon neutral achievement, Maple Leaf also hopes to drive awareness of the climate change issue in itself, says Finley. A challenge facing most companies with sustainability targets is that many consumers do not have a strong understanding of carbon management or of what carbon neutrality means. As such, Finley says the latest campaign throws to Maple Leaf’s website, where the company hosts educational material and FAQs to “help people understand what this concept is and what we’re doing about it.”

Finley also notes that children and young adults are having a substantial impact on the way Maple Leaf (and other companies) are communicating around sustainability, a fact that is reflected in its choice to include children’s drawings in the commercial. Concerns from kids – who are the ones “inherting the planet” – and the attention being paid to youth activist Greta Thunberg are encouraging families to talk more about the issue. “We’re hearing from consumers and parents about these conversations that are happening more and more,” Finley says, “and it has really helped accelerate our journey as well.”

The company announced its revised sustainability targets one month after it named Casey Richards as SVP of marketing and innovation, a title that comes with oversight of its family of brands, including Maple Leaf, Schneiders and Swift. Meanwhile, Adam Grogan, who led the efforts behind the company’s “Real Food Manifesto” from 2018 has since moved into the chief operating officer role of its plant-based Greenleaf Foods division.