The ‘Test Tube’ Burger Is Here, but It Won’t Be an Easy Sell

Photograph by Clarissa Leahy

Physician and tissue engineer Mark Post at Maastricht University in the Netherlands is well on his way to engineering a 5-ounce burger in a lab. Soon, a lucky taster will be able to sample the so-called test tube burger, made of 20,000 thin strips of muscle tissue grown in incubators. The meat, Post says, “tastes reasonably good.”

Hungry yet?

Of course, this is not the best way to sell in-vitro meat if it ever hit supermarkets, which won’t be anytime soon. But since we’re curious (and a bit peckish), we asked creatives at top ad agencies for their most far-out ideas on marketing test tube meat.

Neel Williams, senior copywriter at the Martin Agency:

“I was quite intrigued. And then amused. And then kinda disgusted. I definitely agree that it’s a tough sell to consumers, starting with the name. I was thinking you could call it ‘Meatish’ or ‘DHC’ (Don’t Have a Cow). Actually, on second thought, those are terrible names.

“One way to go could be celebrity endorsement. You take a famous vegetarian and show them eating a juicy hamburger. The taste test is a tried and true method as well. You go to a famous burger joint and replace people’s burgers with lab meat. Hopefully they can’t tell the difference. The tag line for this approach would be ‘Tastes Great, Less Killing.’ You know, really play up the PETA-friendly angle in addition to the nonoffensive flavor.”

Rob Reilly, worldwide chief creative officer at CP+B:

“People are creeped out by genetically engineered stuff in general. It would have to be solving a big tension in culture: the killing of animals, world hunger. Then it comes down to: How good is this thing? How safe is it, and can we get past the creepiness factor? You could be transparent about how exactly it’s made.

“Or maybe it’s a leaner, healthier hamburger that tastes just like every other hamburger. People are pretty desperate to lose weight, but they don’t want to give up pleasures like hamburgers. You can say it’s ‘Lean, mean … genetically engineered.’ No. [laughs] It’s ‘Lean and meaningful.’”

Ted Royer, chief creative officer at Droga5:

“The real argument for this development is in favor of animal rights, sustainability—being more conscientious of things other than ourselves. In other words, it doesn’t seem like taste will be the big selling point here. So you build around what you have to offer: Karma + meat = ‘Karmeat.’ But that sounds like roadkill. So let’s concentrate on beef: Karma + beef = ‘Karmoo.’ Not sure that would sell any burgers, but you get where I’m going.”

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