Another iconic advertising slogan bites the dust

Dead Cow


Two years ago, it was Avis car rental’s ground-breaking “We Try Harder” campaign line, killed at the ripe old age (for advertising campaign lines) of 50 because a new CMO wanted to mark her territory.

Now, the even more iconic “Got Milk?” campaign is headin’ for the last roundup. Not because of raw ego, like Avis’s slogan, but for legitimate, if misguided, marketing reasons.

A multilevel breakthrough

In 1993, “Got Milk?” was one of the first major ad campaigns created through account planning, a new (at the time) discipline combining elements of consumer research, marketing and creative strategy. After conducting focus-group research on which foods consumers most often enjoyed with milk, a Goodby, Silverstein & Partners  account planner had the insight of asking respondents to avoid those specific combinations for a week, then focus-grouped them again. This time around, the consumers showed a tangible sense of emotional deprivation.

As a result of this finding, the agency went on to create a series of funny, memorable and effective commercials which showed what happens when people don’t have milk for their, say, milk-and-peanut-butter-sandwich fixes.

The campaign launched in California in 1993, got picked up nationally two years later, boosted milk sales dramatically, and became, in Advertising Age’s words, “one of the most recognizable and parodied phrases in advertising.” Also one of the most plagiarized.

The ‘E’ word

The national Milk Processor Education Program [MilkPEP], looking at changing breakfast habits and, according to Euromonitor International, a 1 percent drop in milk sales volume last year, decided to combat the problem with their middle name – Education. Doing so is one of the biggest mistakes an advertiser can make. 

In consumers’ minds and marketplace behavior, their perceptions don’t just outweigh realities; they are realities – realities held the more strongly because the consumers arrived at them by themselves, without outside prodding.

So no amount of “Education” is going to make American consumers, who now break their overnight fasts with breakfast sandwiches and burritos, nutrition bars, yogurt (which is made with milk) or who skip breakfast entirely, go back to bowls of milk and dry cereal.

Back to the future

MPEP thinks that sinking $50 million into a national campaign that tells consumers that milk is healthy and has protein will solve the problem.

On television, in print, online, in retail promotions and press releases, MilkPEP will tell prospective milk drinkers that drinking milk can power you through running, playing basketball, performing in a rock band, and other such things that everyone does every day.

The ads themselves sound as if they came from a pharmaceutical or insurance company. One print ad, for example, “shows a young woman playing an electric guitar and is captioned: “What 8 grams of protein looks like when you unleash your inner rock star.” The signature line is “Milk Life.”

Reasoning that since fully half of milk consumption is for breakfast, MilkPEP is positioning milk against omelets, which the advertising says is messier. (If you scroll back up, you’ll notice the absence of omelets on the list of breakfasts that consumers are deserting milk-and-cereal breakfasts for.)

The new nutritional approach is a more medicinal version of a campaign strategy tried and found wanting back in the very early ’90s – “Milk does a body good.” Both campaigns neglected the consumer perception that there are foods that are good for them and foods they like to eat – and no foods are both. In a 1994 New York Times interview, Jeff Goodby noted, “It reminds [people] of why they didn’t want to drink it [i.e., milk] in the first place.”

Today’s breakfast patterns suggest that the nutritional/educational approach will be even less effective now than it was then.

Day and Night

While MilkPEP is trying to stampede consumers in a different direction, the California Milk Processor Board, originators of the “Got Milk?” campaign, is going with the herd.

Since people are abandoning milk for breakfast, the California group and their ad agency, Goodby, are selling milk as a bedtime drink.

It’s a path of less resistance, persuading people to do something new rather than to break an established habit.

They’re keeping the “Got Milk?” line, continuing the humor, and saying that milk before bedtime will help you sleep better and enjoy uninterrupted dreams. Unlike the MilkPEP campaign, the language is simple, there are no strained wordplays, and neither the audio nor the on-screen titles mentions a single nutrient.


Make your advertising more effective. Visit

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− three = 5

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>