what would you do if you were in charge of marketing a product that people only noticed when it was all gone? if you were jeff manning, you wouldn\u2019t be depressed by research indicating that consumers took your product for granted \u2014you\u2019d milk the news for all it was worth.
as the executive director of the newly formed california milk processing board (cmpb), manning faced the challenge of reinvigorating sales of a staple in american households that had been declining steadily in consumption for more than 15 years. in 1993, the year the cmpb was established, per capita consumption of milk was 23 gallons, down from 29 gallons in 1980. in contrast, per capita consumption of soft drinks had increased 80 percent over roughly the same period. \u201cand there was really no reason to believe that it wouldn\u2019t continue to go down to some base level of 15 or 18 gallons because you had this incredible influx of, obviously, the sodas, but then the new age beverages, the snapples, the isotonics, the gatorades, and then all of this bottled water stuff,\u201d manning says.
according to a survey by beverage industry magazine, 1,805 new beverages were introduced in 1991 alone. however, a consumer research study commissioned in 1992 by the united dairy industry association revealed that the proliferation of beverage alternatives wasn\u2019t the only factor behind milk\u2019s decline. people also cited milk\u2019s lack of portability and flavor variety, the belief that milk is not thirst-quenching or refreshing, and the fact that milk is \u201cforgettable\u201d because of low spending on advertising. although these research results were useful, it was a different kind of finding that especially caught the eye of manning and representatives of the cmpb\u2019s advertising agency, goodby silverstein and partners in san francisco. in the minds of consumers, drinking milk is closely tied to the consumption of other types of food, such as cereal and cookies. this perceived link was important because it opened up a completely new direction for a marketing communications campaign. at the time, the dominant advertising strategy for milk around the world was \u201cmilk is good for you.\u201d but, as manning points out, \u201cthe problem is, was, remains, that 92 or 93 percent of the people already believed milk was good for you. so what do you have to say? it\u2019s white? it comes in cartons? we had no news whatsoever.\u201d
the connection between milk and food gave the cmpb something new and different to talk about, but it was only half the glass. the other half\u2014the truly compelling portion of the story\u2014was based on goodby silverstein\u2019s insight that the time milk was most important to people was when they ran out. \u201c[consumers] pour their cheerios, they slice the banana, and they reach in [the refrigerator for] the carton [of milk]. they bring the carton [out], and it\u2019s got about two ounces of backwash from their teenagers from the night before. they\u2019re out of milk,\u201d manning says. \u201cmilk suddenly becomes very, very important to them. and nothing else wins. you can\u2019t take snapple and put it on there; you can\u2019t take orange juice or tea or coffee. only milk is important at that moment.\u201d
to help develop the concept of \u201cmilk deprivation,\u201d a group of consumers was asked to live without milk for one week. they couldn\u2019t have milk in their coffee, in their cereal, with meals or desserts, or in any recipes. after seven days without milk, manning says, they were \u201cinsane\u201d because they realized how much they took the beverage for granted. \u201ci keep saying it\u2019s like air. you know, we don\u2019t walk around [inhaling], saying \u2018whoa, good air.\u2019 take it away for about a minute and see how you feel about air. that\u2019s kind of how it is with milk deprivation, because without it you realize, \u2018i can\u2019t live without this product.\u2019\u201d
jeff goodby, a principal with the advertising agency, believed that the best way to execute the milk deprivation idea was not to lecture consumers about keeping enough of the beverage on hand, but to ask them to think about it and answer the question for themselves. this is how \u201cgot milk?\u201d was
individuals who reported consuming milk at least \u201cseveral times a week\u201d jumped from 72 percent at the start of the campaign to 78 percent a year later. the total turnaround in first-year sales volume was $31 million, in contrast to the rest of the country, where consumption continued to decline. this shake-up was accomplished on a budget of only $23 million in a product category where total competitive media spending tops $2 billion annually.
in 1995, the cmpb licensed the hugely successful campaign to the national dairy board. television advertisements depicting people in frustrating situations without milk are the keystone of the integrated marketing communications campaign, which also includes billboards, print ads, sales promotions, joint promotions with major brands, and public relations. one popular \u201cgot milk?\u201d advertisement features oscar the grouch from sesame street looking at a big pile of chocolate chip cookies with a more-than-usually disgruntled look on his face. the slogan \u201cgot milk?\u201d appears above his right shoulder. he\u2019s obviously unhappy about no milk. what\u2019s next? the key challenge is, how do you nurture \u201cgot milk?\u2019 how do you make \u201cgot milk?\u201d stronger and bigger and more influential in people\u2019s lives, which is exactly the challenge for any good advertising campaign? there are lots of ideas on the subject. one would be to change the situations in which people haven\u2019t got milk. instead of situations people might usually encounter, such as no milk to go with cereal in the morning, the campaign could use unusual situations. an example might be an airplane pilot who sees a cart with cookies in the aisle behind him and sends the plane into a nose- dive in order to move the cart his way. of course with this pilot\u2019s luck, a passenger opens a lavatory door and stops the cart. another possibility might be a couple who meet at the refrigerator in search of milk but are distracted by a steamy romantic encounter. spots such as these would feature humor and sex\u2014both of which are successfully used to sell products. but do they sell milk? and is sex appropriate to use to sell milk, which heavily targets children?
an alternative would be to use celebrities in embarrassing situations where they\u2019ve not got milk. perhaps seinfeld could have his cereal ready and not find milk in the refrigerator; perhaps kramer, elaine, or george stops in, opens the fridge and finds\u2014no milk. or the friends find cereal but no milk. such situations use humor but avoid sex. the present ad campaign encourages consumption of milk, primarily at home, which is where 90 percent of milk is consumed. another advertising objective might be to encourage consumption of milk away from home. future ads could feature situations in which milk could be used at work or during leisure activities. such a campaign is a variant on the \u201cit\u2019s not just for breakfast anymore\u201d orange juice campaigns. advertisers try to create the idea that \u201cmilk is not just for home use anymore.\u201d spots might show a family that has stopped at a roadside table to enjoy a cookie break but find they\u2019ve not got milk. or workers could stop for lunch and find no milk in their lunchboxes or the office refrigerator. a final possibility would be to replace the \u201cgot milk?\u201d campaign altogether. after all, it\u2019s been running for over five years, and consumers may tire of the slogan. perhaps the campaign is worn out, especially in california, where consumers have had the opportunity to watch it for even longer. even nike has replaced the famous \u201cjust do it\u201d slogan in its television advertising. knowing when to replace an ad campaign is important\u2014advertisers don\u2019t want to bore consumers or risk zapping when ads come on during commercial breaks. consumers are exposed to hundreds of promotional messages every day, and they learn to screen out ads that are overly familiar, to focus instead on the new and unusual. so, although manning and associates may view the \u201cgot milk?\u201d campaign as a brand or product that can be cultivated for decades, they may find that they have been too successful\u2014that everyone knows about \u201cgot milk?\u201d and no longer pays close attention to the message.
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