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How Preacher Turned Chickens into Photographers the Bullsh*t-Free Way



Creative director at Preacher, Justin Ralph, speaks about getting ‘hens behind the lens’ and making a coffee table chicken photography book for Vital Farms’ newest campaign under their ‘bullsh*t-free’ mantra

How Preacher Turned Chickens into Photographers the Bullsh*t-Free Way

Vital Farms, a pasture-raised egg and butter brand in the US are all about honesty and transparency when it comes to producing their ethically responsible food. In 2019, Vital Farms started its ‘Bullsh*t-free’ campaign that has since developed into something of a philosophy for the brand and its subsequent marketing.

Now, to continue their legacy of truthful storytelling, Vital Farms and their agency of record Preacher have unveiled the ‘Hens Behind the Lens’ campaign that brings a brand new (knee-high) perspective to this traceability and transparency strategy. Using a custom-built camera with a pressure sensor platform, Preacher has allowed some of Vital Farm’s hens to take black and white photos of their flock, farmers and surrounding pastures. Despite being a little bird-brained, these amateur photographers have produced some photos that are pretty clucking good. 

According to Vital Farms’ senior brand manager Heather Mace, this unique photoshoot is the ideal way to ‘share a genuine look at the freedom their pasture-raised hens have to roam outside year-round’, following on from their traceability initiative and the ‘Where Honest Food Is Raised’ campaign that ran earlier this year. Not only will this fowl photography be displayed nationally as digital billboards and geo-targeted mobile ads, but also a limited number of coffee table books will be created for promotional giveaways on the Vital Farms website. 

We spoke with Preacher’s creative director Justin Ralph who took us behind the scenes on the chicken-operated camera, the chick-pic coffee book that’s shutter-clickin’ good and explains why we love seeing animals do human things.

LBB> Where did the initial creative spark for this spot come from? 

Justin> It started with an ask from Vital Farms to look at work they haven’t explored before. We then set the bar to come up with unproven ideas, centred around their values of honesty and transparency, that would get people talking.  

LBB> Why does this idea work so well with hens behind the lens, and is there a possibility we’ll see other farm animals taking shots?

Justin> When you hear ‘Vital Farms’ you think ‘eggs’. Or maybe ‘frittata’ if you’re hungry and fancy. So, it made sense to start with hens. For a while, we considered making a cow cam to show the herds that help make Vital Farms butter. But ultimately, we decided to keep the story simple and pointed. 

I wish I had some profound answer as to why the idea resonates with people, but I think we humans just love when animals do our human things. Cats playing keyboards, dogs riding skateboards, hens taking photos—we’re genetically predisposed to enjoy this stuff. 


LBB> Previous Vital Farms campaigns have also been centred around transparency and the “bullsh*t-free” mantra - how was the process of creating another idea to show this transparency from a new perspective?

Justin> The “bullsh*t-free” mantra started with a campaign to expose misleading food labels, but we knew it had potential to be bigger. Hens Behind the Lens proves it. Not only are the animal-welfare practices of Vital Farms bullsh*t free, but if you ditch the people who are full of sh*t (like myself), their advertising can be bullsh*t free too. It has a ton of legs. 

LBB> Were there other ideas being brainstormed - like mounting a camera actually onto a chicken?

Justin> For a while, there was a camera design that looked like a giant hen, which I may have been a little too excited about. But in the end, we decided to keep the camera as non-invasive as possible. We have a lot of respect for the animals and never want to do anything to make them uncomfortable. 

LBB> How did the concept progress - from just a chicken-operated camera and a BTS film, to creating a coffee table book and digital billboards?

Justin> Part of the ask from Vital Farms was to experiment with a media channel that was new to them. With the beautiful imagery, OOH made a lot of sense. The same goes for the coffee table book. We also wanted people to see the artists’ process—which is half the fun—so we captured the behind-the-scenes photos and film. 


LBB> How did you go about emphasising honesty and transparency in this campaign?

Justin> Amidst all the beautiful photography and crazy camera designs, it was important to not lose sight of our purpose—to capture an honest look at Vital Farms hens and the pastures they call home. The copy does a lot to keep delivering that takeaway. Digital billboards allowed us to bring that message to a lot of key cities.


LBB> Could you walk us through the process of creating the custom-built chicken operated camera?

Justin> Our art director, Kymberli Fraser, first came in with all these fantastical and inventive camera sketches - some more ambitious than others. But really, we had no clue how to make a hen-cam function. That’s where our BTS photographer and camera tech, Andrew Loehman, stepped in. He cracked the mechanism in a day with a prototype, then worked alongside us and a fabricator to make the camera you see in the campaign. 

LBB> How close of a relationship did you have with the production team? 

Justin> A handful of us from Preacher and Vital Farms joined the production crew on the farm, which was an experience. Usually, you have a director who keeps things moving. But in this case, the director was a hen. It all worked out though. The whole team did a wonderful job. 


LBB> How long did the production process take - we imagine there was quite some difficulty herding chickens and getting them to be photographers!

Justin> It took a couple weeks to make the hen camera. But we only had one day on the farm to test it and one day to shoot. Fortunately, we’ve done a few farm shoots, so we have a good sense of how the hens react to certain things. For example, we found out on an earlier production that they’re drawn to the colour red. It’s why the ping pong paddle shutter was painted that colour. 

LBB> Why did you go with black and white photos?

Justin> All the charm and humour of Hens Behind the Lens stems from this very absurd premise juxtaposed with this elevated, and kinda incredible, output. And there’s just something about black and white photography—more so than colour—that feels elevated and sophisticated.


LBB> What do you hope the audience’s reaction to this campaign to be?

Justin> That hens are the real threat to our jobs, not robots. No seriously, I hope they love it, and that it sways more folks to choose food that’s better for animals, people, and the planet.   

LBB> What was the most difficult challenge you faced on this campaign and how did you overcome it?

Justin> As far as I know, no one got in an argument on location with a hen. So I’d say figuring out how to tell the story. We had a feeling the photos would be beautiful but making sure the insight and process came through in the work took a lot of sketching, writing and sharpening. 

LBB> The coffee table book would be a real conversation piece for any living room - how can we get our hands on one? And why use a giveaway? 

Justin> For now, we're working on producing a limited number of copies for a giveaway at the end of this year, but lookout for more updates on when and where you can snag one soon. I'd give Vital Farms a follow on Instagram if you're interested. I think we just really appreciate the fans of Vital Farms. They’re incredibly loyal and supportive, so it seems right to use the coffee table book as a way to give back to them.


LBB> What’s next for Preacher and Vital Farms?

Justin> We’re going to Disneyland… hopefully? No, we’ll get back to thinking of new ways to bring people into the ethical food movement and introduce them to Vital Farms. It’s a great partnership with a lot of shared DNA and values.   


LBB> Do you have anything else to add about this campaign?

Justin> One of the hens asked if she could give a quote: “adl;fkhasfl;wkhfasfjbasdvljabfeihwflsflkahf;lkadh”

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Preacher, Thu, 11 Nov 2021 17:43:00 GMT