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got milk?

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’t be depressed by research indicating that
consumers took your product for granted —you’d 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. “and there was really no reason to believe that it wouldn’t 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,” 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’t the only factor
behind milk’s decline. people also cited milk’s lack of portability and flavor variety, the belief that
milk is not thirst-quenching or refreshing, and the fact that milk is “forgettable” 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’s 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 “milk is good for you.” but, as manning points out, “the 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’s
white? it comes in cartons? we had no news whatsoever.”

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—the truly compelling portion of the story—was based
on goodby silverstein’s insight that the time milk was most important to people was when they ran
out. “[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’s got about two ounces of backwash from
their teenagers from the night before. they’re out of milk,” manning says. “milk suddenly becomes
very, very important to them. and nothing else wins. you can’t take snapple and put it on there;
you can’t take orange juice or tea or coffee. only milk is important at that moment.”

to help develop the concept of “milk deprivation,” a group of consumers was asked to live without
milk for one week. they couldn’t 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 “insane” because they
realized how much they took the beverage for granted. “i keep saying it’s like air. you know, we
don’t walk around [inhaling], saying ‘whoa, good air.’ take it away for about a minute and see how
you feel about air. that’s kind of how it is with milk deprivation, because without it you realize, ‘i
can’t live without this product.’”

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 “got milk?” was
born. the campaign was launched in november 1993 and produced spectacular results, both in
terms of the attention it garnered among consumers and its impact on consumption. the los
angeles times reported that the ads had a “near-cult following.” more important, the number of
individuals who reported consuming milk at least “several times a week” 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 “got milk?”
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 “got milk?” appears
above his right shoulder. he’s obviously unhappy about no milk. what’s next? the key challenge
is, how do you nurture “got milk?’ how do you make “got milk?” stronger and bigger and more
influential in people’s 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’t 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’s 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—both 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’ve 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—no 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 “it’s not just for breakfast anymore” orange juice campaigns. advertisers try to create
the idea that “milk is not just for home use anymore.” spots might show a family that has stopped
at a roadside table to enjoy a cookie break but find they’ve 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 “got milk?” campaign altogether. after all, it’s 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 “just do it” slogan in its television advertising. knowing when to replace an ad
campaign is important—advertisers don’t 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 “got milk?”
campaign as a brand or product that can be cultivated for decades, they may find that they have
been too successful—that everyone knows about “got milk?” and no longer pays close attention
to the message.
questions for discussion
1. why has the “got milk?” campaign been so successful?
2. what are the current objectives of the “got milk?” campaign? what audiences does the
campaign target?
3. would the proposed ads—featuring either unusual situations or celebrities—fit with the
campaign’s objectives and the target audience?
4. what are the pros and cons of attempting to stimulate milk usage in situations away from
the home?
5. should the “got milk?” campaign be replaced? what information would the cmpb and its
agency needs to make that decision? how could they get this information?
6. suppose the cmpb decides to replace the campaign and you are in charge of developing a
new theme and slogan. develop at least two new ideas. be certain to specify the target
audiences, campaign objectives, message themes, and appropriate media to use.

sources: “got milk?—california fluid milk processors advisory board,” adweek, august 5, 1996, p. a6; “milk
ads shaking up sales,” supermarket news, august 12, 1996, p. 39; jerry dryer, “milk’s about face,” dairy
foods, feb. 1997, p. 28: donna hemmila, “award-winning ‘got milk?’ ads promote healthy sales,” power
marketing, july 18-24, 1997, pp. 4a-5a; and kathy tyrer, “goodby’s got more milk,” adweek, march 25, 1996, p.
4.