Agtech Issues: The Shiny Object Syndrome

Do you remember those cartoons where someone lures someone else by placing a piece of candy, small amount of money, or breadcrumbs in a row that ends in a trap under a box propped up by a stick attached to a string? After my visit to the Farm Progress show last week — and to be honest, other recent shows — this is the feeling I get. “Hey, come here and get this yard stick you’ll never use, this hat you’ll never wear, or this product you’ll never utilize….” Ok, I’ll take that yard stick every darn time, never use it, but if I need to visualize three feet, it is on the wall hanging on a nail and it’s like a security blanket. To quote Metallica, “Sad but true.”


This is what I call the “shiny object syndrome”, a symbiotic marketing and product development tactic used by every industry since the wheel was invented. Buy three wheels and get the fourth free! (Fast speech follows: This wheel and all wheels are subject to failure, may cause injury, death, vomiting, and at certain times desire to spin that may lead to dizziness or constipation).

It seems everyone in the news and marketing industry — which includes ag shows — are enamored with all the buzzwords that get the most attention and reaction. It is great and deceiving at the same time and I blame no one that does it and it isn’t necessarily wrong. Heck, it is the job of many at the group showcasing this article on its website that is trying to attract attention and there are many more out there. Grabbing attention isn’t what concerns me though. If it is useful, engaging in a positive way that actually works and helps, then awesome. What I’m seeing and don’t like are offers of value and tools/services that promote the “you get this much ROI or save this much money” without much or any proof. That or the false sense of reality that this one thing will change the industry, blah blah blah. You’ve heard of them all I’m sure.

I get why it happens. You need to sell a product, showcase an idea, make it shine, and be better than the next or you’ll be on the curb. While this is common in many industries, agriculture is a little different than others. Take vacuums, for example, which claim: “Better suction is the essence of cleanliness.” Thanks Dyson and Roomba (which by the way gets stuck on the damn bathroom rug every time and takes two hours to vacuum two rooms)! Don’t get me started on robots in ag right now.


We probably have all been guilty of promoting something that is only somewhat true, but we have to catch ourselves in these instances. Sure, I’ve had my moments of pushing products that maybe don’t interest the public much or provide as much extra value to get that certain buck. The one thing I don’t do is say that it will give you this much in return by the acre exactly no matter what. I’ll give examples and let them decide if they think they could do the same. For me seeing imagery everywhere throughout the world has taught me no field is the same and every farm is different — a lesson this industry needs to better understand and grasp going forward. Canned messages and promotions can be very misleading with no context and that is what is missing.

I don’t really care what the tech is or the product or service. The answer and value of it is not in saying it makes this much per whatever and is better than this or that. It is taking your product/service and showing the end user how to utilize it so that they can see their own value/profit/ROI. If it works like you think it does and how you’ve claimed, then it shouldn’t be too hard to show value. The ones that push “it will make this much per acre” are promoting their product wrong and doing it to suck you in, not to show you value. It is merely a shiny object and can’t easily be defined in the world of ag or specifically precision ag. Too many variables.

Shut-up-and-take-my-moneyNow I’m not here to say the “shiny object” mongers are hawking bad or horrible products/services, since most times they are not, but I am saying: be careful. It can backfire and hurt us all. Agriculture is in a somewhat fragile state right now and it can be really easy to follow the snake oil to grab that extra attention. The recessions and depressions in our economy have proved this. Grifters from all walks of life trying to swing you over to their side by saying anything that makes you say, “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”

The would-be grifters were out in force at the show, and their desperation was lurking around every corner. To quote @dave_newby “The Farm Progress Show is where farmers with $3 corn look at all the ways they could produce corn if it was $5.”

It was kind of sad and why I could only be there for about 3 hours. My other colleagues at the precision ag conference the previous day said the same thing, that it’s not worth the time. And for the most part, it wasn’t. Not the show’s fault, and not everyone was bad but still, way too much BS and miss-leading promotion.

If the agtech or precision ag industry and its cohorts are to excel and actually gain the trust of growers and the service providers that help them on a larger scale, then we all need to find the ways to not sell or promote the shininess of products, but concentrate on the extra value they bring to the table and how it can be used in a realistic way. Not some baseless situation that says it works everywhere and for everyone. It doesn’t and nothing does.

Sell common sense. Show what is real and doable. Create an opportunity to show what you can actually do and provide. In other words, don’t sell ice to an Eskimo even if you can. Sell them the insulation blanket or cooler that makes the igloo last longer that prevents melting and saves them ice. Really, they might just want to do what they’ve been doing since they like doing it that way, and do it pretty well. Provide some breathing room maybe.

Overall, let’s skip the high drama shiny object approach. This industry is not the Kardashians….and I can’t believe I just used them as an example of what NOT to be in this ag industry. Yikes…

By the way, anyone want my stupid Roomba?