In the mid-1990s, with the emergence of new juices, fruit drinks, iced teas, coffee drinks, bottled waters, and soft drinks, Californians were drinking less milk every year. Milk consumption per capita in California had dropped 6 percent between 1987 and 1992. Before 1993 most of California’s dairy advertising was funded either by the National Dairy Board (an organization of dairy farmers) or by the government-run California Milk Advisory Board. Together the two spent an estimated $13 million to promote the statewide consumption of dairy products. The budget was meager compared with those of other beverage companies. Dairy farmers could not compete with titans such as PepsiCo, Inc., and the Coca-Cola Company. The latter spent $100 million in 1992 to advertise just one of its brands, Coca-Cola Classic. Realizing that the dairy industry needed outside assistance, the California Department of Food and Agriculture formed the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) in 1993. A few months later the CMPB released its ‘‘Got Milk?’’ campaign.
The ad agency Goodby, Silverstein and Partners (GS&P) created ‘‘Got Milk?’’ with the CMPB’s $23 million annual budget. Previous campaigns had been aimed at people who did not consume milk, but the agency’s research led it to target a different audience: people who were already milk drinkers. It concluded that ‘‘milk is usually consumed with something else, and that the only time people really think about milk is when they’ve run out of it.’’ The print, television, radio, and billboard campaign debuted on October 29, 1993, with a television spot titled ‘‘Aaron Burr.’’ The spot featured a history scholar who lost a radio trivia contest because his mouth was full of a peanut-butter sandwich and he was out of milk. ‘‘Got Milk?’’ continued for more than a decade and included television spots parodying steroid abuse in Major League Baseball and aliens that abducted cows for their milk.
Awards given to the first spot foretold the campaign’s eminent success. ‘‘Aaron Burr’’ garnered three Gold Clios, the Grand Prix Clio for Commercial of the Year, one Gold EFFIE, and one Silver Lion at the 1994 Cannes International Advertising Festival. One year after the campaign began, milk sales in California had increased 7 percent.
According to the California Milk Advisory Board, from 1980 to 1993 annual milk consumption in California dropped from 30 to 24.1 gallons of milk per person. Before the formation of the CMPB the two leading entities that advertised dairy products in California were the National Dairy Board, an organization of dairy farmers that spent an estimated $2 million annually on television commercials, and the California Milk Advisory Board, which was formed in 1969 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture to promote dairy products. In 1992 the latter spent an estimated $11 million to advertise milk and other dairy products. One of its most memorable campaigns was ‘‘Milk. It Does A Body Good,’’ created by the ad agency McCann-Erickson in the 1980s. Despite such efforts, milk was losing business to larger beverage makers, and eventually the state intervened. The California Department of Food and Agriculture established the California Milk Processor Board in February 1993. The fledgling CMPB was allocated $23 million for an advertising campaign. Jeff Goodby, the cochairman of the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, helped win CMPB’s account by offering a compelling explanation for most consumers’ need for milk. He suggested building a campaign around his theory that the only time consumers really wanted milk was when they had run out of it. Goodby then challenged his agency’s creatives to develop stories of people who needed milk more than others. He suggested that, as a guideline, they use Steven Spielberg’s 1971 thriller Duel, in which a malevolent truck driver hunted down a business commuter. ‘‘Imagine that truck was pursuing another semi, cutting it off and ramming it from behind,’’ Goodby told his team, according to Adweek. ‘‘When the camera pulled back, you saw it was a cookie truck chasing a milk truck and the driver of the cookie truck had his mouth full of cookies and nothing to drink.’’
The guideline catalyzed a campaign titled ‘‘Got
Milk?,’’ in which actors were featured in humorous predicaments that resulted from their need to wash down food with milk. ‘‘We’re going to jolt Californians out of their milk malaise,’’ Jeff Manning, executive director of the CMPB, announced in the news service Business Wire days before the campaign was released. ‘‘Our focus is on action, not just attitude change. Increasing milk consumption at home is our only objective.’’
GS&P market research used two key studies in different phases of this campaign: a 1993 MARC continuous telephone survey of a representative sample of the population in California, and a qualitative study of focus groups and one-on-one interviews led by GS&P. Other research included a national Nielsen household panel, from which California data were extracted. This study provided inhome scanner systems for participants to record their grocery buying from all kinds of food outlets. Additionally, Gallup conducted a tracking study based on daily telephone interviews designed to record milk consumption habits statewide. The Gallup study reported that three major reasons that people were drinking less milk were perceptions that milk was high in fat, that it was a children’s drink, and that milk was boring compared with other drinks, especially sodas. The Gallup study also found that many Californians believed that they should drink more milk.
Previous campaigns had tried to stop the decline by portraying milk as cool, fun, and cutting-edge, much like advertising for sodas. As GS&P put it, campaigns for milk ‘‘had lively jingles, and healthy looking people with lustrous hair, perfect teeth and fine muscle definition [who] sang [about] it, jogged with it, and danced with it.’’ GS&P decided that previous advertising had been aimed at the wrong people. A CMPB study found that 70 percent of Californians used milk frequently. The agency concluded that most of the past advertisements had been targeted at the 30 percent of people who were not using any milk or who were using it less than the average person. GS&P decided to aim its campaign at the 70 percent who were ignored by the earlier campaigns, convincing them to use milk more frequently or to drink it in larger amounts. A representative of the ad agency explained, ‘‘persuading people who are not doing something to do it (whether again or for the first time) tends to be harder than persuading people who are already doing it to do it more often.’’
GS&P’s research showed that 88 percent of milk was consumed at home. It was typically used as an accompaniment to food, and the food was frequently considered of more interest than the milk. Milk was rarely the center of attention, as previous ads had portrayed it. Backing up Jeff Goodby’s original suggestion, the research concluded that ‘‘the only time people even think about milk at all is when they don’t have any.’’ When focus-group participants (who had not had any milk for a week) got together, they reported that they usually did not think about milk at all but that ‘‘they had been painfully aware of it in its absence over the previous few days. And that absence had been all the more painful and frustrating in the context of certain foods,’’ such as peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, cereal, brownies, and chocolate-chip cookies. These foods were not the same without milk. One side effect of the research was that the participants experienced ‘‘powerful cravings’’ when they talked about the foods that went with milk. Some later said that on the way home from the focus groups they went shopping to buy some of the craved foods.
In 1993 milk was competing against a beverage industry crowded with juices, fruit drinks, iced teas, bottled waters, and soft drinks. One of milk’s closest competitors was Snapple, a natural tea-based drink that was initially sold in health food stores. The brand was popular among consumers looking for healthier alternatives to soft drinks. Throughout the 1990s Snapple advertised its exotic flavors with its reoccurring spokeswoman the Snapple Lady, who was played by the company’s own employee Wendy Kaufman. An illustration of Kaufman was featured on the bottle of Snapple Orange Tropic; it showed a reposed Snapple Lady wearing a floral dress against a tropical island backdrop. In many of the Snapple TV commercials the Snapple Lady simply answered the letters of real-life Snapple fans. The brand had a serious setback after being purchased by the cereal giant the Quaker Oats Company in December 1994. For two years Quaker Oats released high-budget commercials without the Snapple Lady, hoping to draw customers away from cola giants such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The strategy backfired, and advertising analysts lambasted Quaker Oats for misconstruing Snapple’s brand identity. During Quaker Oats’ two-year control of the brand Snapple sales declined 21 percent. Snapple was finally sold to Triarc Companies in 1997, and that year the Snapple Lady resurfaced as the brand’s spokeswoman.
Throughout the 1990s the slogan ‘‘Got Milk?’’ grew more popular than slogans used by the competition. Pepsi advertised its flagship beverage, Pepsi, with a $500 million campaign titled ‘‘Generation Next,’’ created by the ad agency BBDO New York in 1997. The world’s largest soft-drink manufacturer, the Coca-Cola Company, spent $500 million on just its sporting-event advertisements in 1996. Despite the competition’s deep pockets, ‘‘Got Milk?’’ proved more recognizable to consumers throughout the decade. According to the U.S. Newswire, 9 out of 10 Americans could identify the phrase in 2003.
There were three objectives to the ‘‘Got Milk?’’ campaign:
to change the public’s behavior regarding milk; to create the idea of ‘‘milk occasions’’ by associating the product with certain foods; and to curb the decline in sales by convincing people to buy milk more often and in larger quantities. Changing behavior, in addition to attitudes, was done with carefully placed media. A consumption strategy focused on coordinating the appropriate food with the time of day that a commercial was aired (for example, a cereal commercial in the morning or late at night), because most milk drinking occurred at home. The campaign’s first spots aired on October 29, 1993. ‘‘Aaron Burr,’’ one of the 60-second debut spots, featured a man eating a peanut-butter sandwich and listening to a radio trivia contest. When the DJ asked, ‘‘Who shot Alexander Hamilton?’’ the man looked at the portrait on his wall that showed Burr and the bullet he had used to kill Hamilton. Because he was out of milk the history buff garbled, ‘‘Aaawwon Buuuhh,’’ with a mouth full of peanut butter. The spot ended with the ‘‘Got Milk?’’ tagline. In 1997 the campaign included a series of black-and-white spots set in the fictional town of Drysville, where town officials had enforced a prohibition of milk. In 2002 the CMPB sparked media attention when the organization promised to donate heavily to the school board of the first Californian town that changed its name to ‘‘Got Milk?’’ None of the towns petitioned changed their names. The campaign then parodied Major League Baseball steroid abuse with a series of spots that featured athletes using milk as a performanceenhancement substance. After baseball authorities requested that the spots be stopped, ‘‘Got Milk?’’ advertised the high-calcium benefits of milk. In 2006 the campaign shifted into a humorous alien theme with spots featuring cows that had been abducted by aliens in search of milk.
GS&P intended to create a desire for the ‘‘complementary food item, then milk consumption would follow.’’ The agency fashioned a kind of deprivation strategy, showing complementary food with no milk. Taking the milk away ‘‘provides the blow that links the action to a viewer’s own refrigerator. The message is: go to the refrigerator, check the milk, make sure you have enough, if there isn’t enough go and buy some, and maybe even have some right now.’’ The ad agency heard focus-group anecdotes of eating complementary foods without milk to help them come up with creative ideas based on common, real-life experiences—‘‘truths,’’ as the creative team said, ‘‘that could then be dramatized to make them more impactful.’’
According to the ad agency and the CMPB, the original objectives of the campaign were exceeded. Bruce Horowitz of the Los Angeles Times wrote in May 1994, ‘‘Since the ad campaign began . . . it has developed a nearcult following.’’ In the first three months the effort reached a 60 percent aided recall level. MARC reported that ‘‘Got Milk?’’ had overtaken the ‘‘long-running ‘Does a Body Good’ campaign in top-of-mind awareness by mid-1994.’’
The campaign objective to change behavior and increase milk consumption was also met. Nielsen panels found that household penetration had increased from 70 percent in 1993 to 74 percent in 1995. The Nielsen household panel results showed that, except for the first two months of the campaign, milk consumption in California increased over the previous year, while it declined nationally—the reverse of the situation before the campaign began.
By 1994 the sales decline reported by California milk processors in 1993 had been halted. According to Nielsen scanner data, California milk sales increased 7 percent from 1993 to 1994, while national sales figures were unchanged. A GS&P report noted that sales grew by 13.5 million gallons, or $34 million. The 3.5 percent decrease in 1993 sales, together with the 1994 percentages, represented ‘‘a swing of 5.3 percent, or 40 million gallons, or $100 million dollars.’’ The ‘‘Got Milk?’’ campaign made its mark in advertising by collecting nearly every industry award, including multiple Clio awards, several EFFIEs, a number of gold ADDY awards, a Silver Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, and a David Ogilvy Research Award. According to GS&P, a 1999 national survey revealed that awareness for the tagline ‘‘Got Milk?’’ was 12 times greater than the slogan for Pepsi, 6 times greater than the sports drink Gatorade’s tagline ‘‘Life’s a sport. Drink it up,’’ and 4 times greater than Coke’s slogan ‘‘Enjoy.’’ Jeff Manning, executive director of the CMPB, explained in a 2003 issue of Brandweek, ‘‘A brand’s strength and power comes from the immovable belief that it will live forever. Start acting on that belief and every decision, every idea, every waking moment begins to take focus and direction. The same holds true for a campaign or a tagline. ‘Got Milk?’ will live forever because we, the dairy industry, will it so. Not very scientific, but true nonetheless.’’ In 2003 the CMPB reported that the campaign had a 97 percent awareness rate in California.
IMITATION IS THE BEST FORM OF FLATTERY
Perhaps the best indicator of the campaign’s effectiveness was Dairy Management, Inc.’s decision to take the California ‘‘Got Milk?’’ campaign nationwide in 1995, with an $80 million media spend. The organization, which promoted dairy products on behalf of America’s dairy producers, paid the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) to use the campaign, and the California group put the money back into media. SMI, Chicago, measured the national campaign and found that its success mirrored that of the CMPB.