Frying pans feels the heat Defending Danish bacon is a serious business these days. But John Howard is keeping his sense of fun He's a Cambridge classics scholar, former Ampleforth student, and has many other hallmarks of a man who is British to the core. But John Howard is the voice of Denmark. Of Danish. And these days it's a rough job, working in the face of one of the most belligerent, even xenophobic advertising campaigns the MLC has ever come up with for defending domestic product. Being an old fashioned Englishman, the Danish Bacon and Meat Council's marketing director likes to strive for consensus, fair play, cricket. And Moderation with a capital M underpins his reaction to the ads. He is clearly very annoyed. Yet you know he won't descend to the level of the MLC. Inside he might be spitting blood, but in comment taken aback' will do. "We were certainly expecting a hard hitting campaign, because it had been stated on public platforms," says Howard in his clear English tones. "But we were taken aback by what appeared." Sufficiently taken aback to lodge a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority. Howard also thinks Britain has got it wrong. Never mind the shock horror. Just in the basic way you market meat. He doesn't need his focus groups to tell him that there are some things consumers do not want to know. "It is not prudent for the meat industry to overtly confront consumers with the nitty gritty of how their meat reaches their table. Mainstream consumers are still prepared to trust their retailers ­ in conjunction with their meat suppliers ­ to look after the detail properly. "This advertising has the hallmark of single issue pressure group material. I can't recall this kind of advertising ever working to build a coherent brand. This campaign lacks, in our view, any engaging tone: it hectors, it raises anxieties. "We want people to be engaged, to feel positive about what they're buying. At a general level people will quite understandably profess a concern about welfare, but if it is raised with them in a very overt angst-raising way, they will go and buy something else." But he also thinks Britain has got its facts wrong. "The interpretation and analysis of the work behind the campaign is totally at odds with the research we have done. "Denmark has constantly called for a constructive dialogue with Britain over animal welfare and production issues and I have heard various senior figures in the British pig industry argue for a similar approach." Howard is an expert at achieving consensus. And at crossing national divides. Today he is universally liked and respected by Danes and British alike for his genial company, marketing acumen and balanced perspectives. Guests at his surprise 50th birthday party last year (a crowded occasion) heard a eulogy from Danske Slagterier marketing director Oivind Hoen, who had flown in from Copenhagen specially. The themes ranged from relating Howard's skill as an orator to displaying a series of yellowing photographs which showed that today's follically challenged marketing guru once sported a Beatles style haircut and even a drooping Zapata moustache. To the canny Danes, Howard is the "perfect Englishman" who is a powerful weapon when it comes to putting the Scandinavian view across when the talking gets tough in what is still, in many ways, the most traditional of all British food commodity markets. He'll fight when he has to, firing a broadside at the Brits for what he sees is inconsistency and hypocrisy over meat and bonemeal in feed, banned in Britain due to BSE. "Danish producers have taken decisive action in eliminating the use of MBM on farms producing pigs for the UK market." Yet, he claims, British industry bodies have been discussing ways of reintroducing MBM into animal feeds in this country. "MAFF still expressly permits swill feeding, which also allows the possibility of pigmeat being used to feed pigs here. "Indeed MLC conceded the point to the media just the other week: some swill feeding producers were operating under the British Quality Scheme." But then he will point to the fact the entire Danish industry does acknowledge the grievances many farmers have on this side of the North Sea. He may seem to try a little too hard for moderation and harmony, but there's a showman lurking underneath the poise. For this is the man who turned up for his first Lord's Test Match with Australia in open necked shirt and well worn leather bomber jacket. Needless to say this sent MCC members, plus his cricket fanatic marketing colleague, into paroxysms of rage. Yet, a year later, Howard joined the trade's greats at that same august venue in crisp, cream Panama, smart military buttoned blazer, university tie and highly polished brogues, before astounding all with a litany of cricketing stats dating from Ian Botham back to WG Grace and that while dispensing lavish quantities of Moët. Anyway, what's with all the doom and gloom? Bacon is, after all, "a fun product". "When people eat a bacon butty ­ possibly to the chagrin of British producers ­ they are not looking for a cathartic experience. They just want to enjoy a bacon butty," protests Howard. His sense of fun has been seen in the memorable vegetarians eat bacon ads, and the horror film spoofs of last year. But he is also passionate about his subject matter. He has taken the Danish gospel into prisons, even lecturing the inmates of one Buckinghamshire institution on the relative merits of streaky and back rashers. And he's used to taking the flak down the pub from the regulars at his local. "A lot of my media training has been at the hand of local farmers, when I am defending Danish honour. If I put branded prizes up for quiz nights and tombolas, I usually get some sort of comment." Howard has been working in Danish food export marketing for over 25 years. A member of The Marketing Society and an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, he has been working in the discipline since completing one of the first postgraduate courses in the subject ever to be offered in the UK at Bradford University. Yet his marketing experience began on home ground, with the Milk Marketing Board in 1972. In 1974 he become a marketing assistant with Danish Agricultural Producers. But it was several years later that he really cut his teeth in the provisions business, joining Butterdane UK (later to become MD Foods), importer of the Danes' flagship Lurpak brand. This took him into London's Tooley Street, the historic, yet now largely defunct Thames-side "provisions academy", for so long the training ground for the big names in the bacon and dairy businesses. Although most of the household name trading offices have long since been taken over by accountants, advertising agencies and even a private hospital, it was amid those Victorian piles that Howard honed much of his negotiating skill. Yet, to many of his peers, he is not your archetypal provisions man. The academic background probably influenced that. Despite his measured approach to the aggressive MLC ads, there are many in grocery who suspect the former chairman of the PTF is keeping his powder dry. There are even those in the UK farming sector who fear he'll persuade the Danes to apply for the NFU's little red tractor farm standard logo on Danish bacon packs an entirely legal move in EU law. But his reaction to all this speculation is (naturally) measured: "We will weigh up all the options. Our quality is as good as the British, but who knows?" All the years of working with the Danes have failed to touch the essential Englishness of this Cambridge blue. Married to Alicia, a graphic designer with a lot of experience of food briefs, they have three children. Several years ago the family abandoned the bustle of the capital and trekked up the M40 to a tranquil Buckinghamshire village.This inevitably means a daily motorway crawl to his Kingston base, but at least it provides Howard with the thinking time to plot strategy for his Scandinavian masters. And, as he's quick to tell you, the quality of life in rural England easily makes up for M25 gridlocks. His two rugby playing sons share their father's passion for the game. The week of the MLC pig campaign started with a "black Tuesday" of media grilling. But it ended on a real high note, watching his elder son take the field at Twickenham in the National under-20 finals. Good fun. n {{PROFILE }}