Free-Range Chickens Take Center Stage in TV Commercials

You can hardly turn on a TV without seeing a free-range chicken anymore. Is it just pop culture or something more?

I don’t own a television, and I could not be happier for it. This annoys my friends because they’ll talk about TV commercials or popular shows, and I return their enthusiasm with a blank look. I always try to engage with their technology-based-entertainment banter by showing the video I took of a chicken laying an egg, but this rarely goes well. So I surprised my friend and former Hobby Farms editor Stephanie Staton when she texted me the other night to ask if I’d seen the Geico commercial (above) with the free-range chicken.

I had actually seen the Geico commercial while at a friend’s house, and I loved it. Maybe it’s because I identify with the chicken’s free-form travel sensibilities, envy its photogenic nature (“He just keeps sendin’ more pictures.”) or admire the chicken’s seemingly effortless ability to hitch a ride with a trucker. The day after Stephanie’s text, I came across this Reebok ad online and wondered what the heck is up with the sudden capitalization on the free-range chicken concept.

This commercial is clever, too, but Geico’s is my favorite, mostly because it appears to be a real chicken. I don’t trust the Reebok chicken’s ability to cross a busy highway in one piece, though I do agree with its choice to take the trail rather than the treadmill.

Chickens We Have Known

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I asked other friends to recall chicken commercials of the past. I was reminded of the Mercedes-Benz commercial, using the chickens to demonstrate the vehicle maker’s “Magic Body Control.” This cracks me up completely! I’ve watched it three times already while writing this blog entry. When this came out, I remember talking about how we could do a similar Hobby Farms video with the chickens on the farm where I work.

Another friend pointed me to this awesome LG G2 cellphone commercial, which is a little long but worth the watch. It reminds me that I’ve been lobbying for a GoPro for the chickens since writing about PETA’s chicken video game last year.

The Mercedes-Benz and LG commercials are both brilliant takes on chickens’ head-stabilization attribute, but they don’t involve a social statement like the free-range idea. I have to wonder if ads featuring free-range concepts are trending this year because free-range is now a mainstream thought. California’s larger-cages law has raised awareness about the amount of space egg-laying hens are allotted, and humane meat and local foods are part of mainstream vernacular. I guess it’s possible that the sustainable-farming/free-range-chicken conversation has gone far enough that marketers are willing to bet on this. (Next up: Pop-culture references to cover crops? Fingers crossed!) I still encounter enough people on a daily basis who are not educated about how animal proteins are produced, though, to think this is just clever marketing at play.

Also On My Mind

Working with chickens every day and knowing how crazy-making they can be, I have questions about these videos.

  • How many takes did they have to do to get that Geico chicken to cooperatively walk anywhere? Please don’t tell me this was all shot on a green screen—my heart will be broken!
  • Who was in charge of wrangling the Geico chicken after each take? That person was not paid enough, whoever he was.
  • Are those chickens in the Mercedes-Benz commercial drugged? I don’t think mine would be so complacent to just hang out and be manipulated for that long.
  • How many pairs of white gloves did the Mercedes-Benz actors go through before finishing this commercial? I don’t have to tell you that chickens are not the cleanest animals in the barn.

What are your thoughts on these commercials? Is the free-range concept just a fun idea that companies are capitalizing on, or is there enough mainstream backing that they are riding on higher-welfare-animal-care’s coattails?

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