Canadian Wheat Board lashed by farmers over sexy cowgirl ad

Steve Mertl
·National Affairs Contributor
A Canadian Wheat Board ad using a cowgirl pinup encourages farmers to sign up for its winter pool offering.

All advertising essentially is a game of "made ya look!"

The otherwise staid Canadian Wheat Board certainly managed to do that with a provocative ad that uses a pinup poster of a sexy cowgirl.

The image, titled Hi-Ho Silver, of a miniskirted buckeroo girl straddlng a rail fence is by U.S. pinup artist Gil Elvgren. It dates from 1969, though its iconography seems firmly rooted in the 1940s.

The ad, titled Still on the Fence?, was run in farm publications to encourage farmers to sell their grain through the wheat board's "winter pool," CBC News reported. But it appears to have bunched the long johns of some in the farm sector.

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The National Farmers Union (NFU), long a defender of the embattled wheat board, wagged its finger at the ad, deeming it sexist.

“What an image of a long-legged woman straddling a fence has to do with selling grain is beyond me,” says Joan Brady, NFU women’s president, said in a news release. “The ad is offensive, and likely to cause farmers to market their grain elsewhere.

“The new CWB doesn’t seem to realize that women are farmers and make marketing decisions. Whether in our own right or in partnership, we are deeply involved in all aspects of farming."

The ad is just so 20th Century, the NFU said, and reflects the wheat board's desperation in trying to fill its grain pools.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government stripped the board of its monopoly to sell Prairie grain after a bitter fight with supporters of the longstanding policy. The NFU's response to the ad reflects the political undercurrent of that battle.

“Many long-time CWB supporters are deliberately marketing outside of the CWB as a statement of principle rather than a lack of loyalty," NFU board member Glenn Tait said. "The choice signifies their rejection of the undemocratic process used to dismantle the CWB and the Harper government’s appropriation of our resources – farmers’ resources.”

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Public reaction to the ad, once they saw it, seemed mixed, judging by the online poll attached to the CBC News story. More than 40 per cent of respondents thought it was silly, but harmless, while almost a third loved it and only about 18 per cent found it offensive.

Maybe Adweek's Adfreak blog had the right solution to defuse it.

"Clearly, the only way to set this right is to find a painting of a buff cowboy straddling a fence and use it for a second ad," it said.