Monday, July 25, 2011

Got Milk? Got Controversy

The nationally famous Got Milk? ad campaign has had its moments of controversy before. Who would have thought after nearly two decades it could cause sensational ripples in the marketing world, again?

The California Milk Processor Board's "Got Milk?" ad campaign has had a pretty major impact on dairy advertising in the United States since first aired 18 years ago. The initial commercial in the series was even voted one of the top ten best ever by a USA Today poll. Since then, the campaign has been kept fresh by constantly evolving, even being translated into other languages with mixed results.

So what's the hubbub about now? Recent PMS-themed “Got Milk?” ads promoted dairy products to men as a way to reduce premenstrual syndrome symptoms in their wives or girlfriends. The ads were based on studies published in scientific journals in 1999 and 2005 that found a link between calcium consumption and fewer PMS symptoms. But the problems with the ads are not so much the message they convey as much as how they convey it.

The Got Milk? ad campaign has used these studies to promote dairy products in the past, as evidenced by this 2006 commercial:

Seems innocent and innocuous enough. I think most people would find it funny. It plainly pokes fun at both sexes, as women can typically be a little emotional during that time of the month and men can be a bit simplistic in trying to solve problems for women they love.

Now look at a few ads from the most recent Got Milk? campaign that are causing a stir:

Not quite as innocent or innocuous, is it? Combine the ads with the website and it's a little hard not to be offended at the implications being made for both men and women. The site had an Emergency Milk Locator map, color-coded Current Global PMS Level, a Video Apology Enhancer and something called a Puppy Dog-Eye-Zer.

Ugh. Really?

The marketing-minded part of me thinks this particular streak of humor has an edge to it that cuts at the very people who are most likely doing the grocery shopping. It may be an attempt at reaching out to men about the benefits milk can have, but in the meantime they're counter-intuitively belittling the women they're supposedly trying to help. Additionally, this biting, one-sided style simply isn't appropriate for marketing a wholesome staple product like milk.

The rest of me thinks this campaign is just plain bullshit.

Though the ads have generated a lot of conversation, the attention hasn’t been positive. The campaign is less than two weeks old and already the California Milk Processor Board has apologized. The name of the website has changed to "Got Discussion?" and it has been completely re-purposed to address the many issues the ads have stirred up. And billboards that have already gone up are going to be altered.

Bet none of that was originally included in their marketing budget. Though milk as a product will ultimately survive, this is a blemish on an otherwise well-received, long-term ad campaign.

What is your opinion of the ads?


  1. Oh dear, what a waste of money and time! They could have at least had similar posters from a womens point of view to counter the male ones.

  2. I agree, Elaine, that's something that could have changed the campaign. The board could have even targeted different men's and women's publications and I bet the conversation would be different. What were they thinking?