In case you haven’t heard, Got Milk? is done. As marketing campaigns go, it’s a hall-of-famer. Its simple message has been drilled into our brains and our culture. It is one of the most imitated and parodied marketing campaigns, ever. It has become as ubiquitous as, well, milk. But is has been put out to pasture. Moo.
OK, it’s not entirely gone because the California Milk Processor Board, the original creators of the tagline, plan to keep using it. They’ve been licensing it to the national group known as the Milk Processor Education Program or “MilkPEP” for the last 20 years. But in 49 other states, MilkPEP is moving on to a new approach.
More on that in a minute, but the demise of Got Milk? brings to mind two questions for me. (Three if you count “do I have enough milk for this week?”) First, is it really time for Got Milk to get going? And the second is, why are there no truly national milk brands?
A little background: “Got Milk?” has been skewered for being a statement of the obvious, but there is actually some pretty smart marketing behind the concept. Twenty years ago, milk industry research revealed some basic market segmentation. There were those people who drank milk morning, noon and night, literally, and could not possibly buy more. And there was a big chunk of people who disliked, were allergic to, or otherwise rejected it out-of-hand. They never bought milk. But the research showed a sweet spot. These were moderate milk consumers, using it maybe once or twice a day, but inconsistently. The research showed they would run out of milk and wish they had it. Ta da! The basis for Got Milk? was born. What did my spouse say to me this morning? Oh, yeah, get milk. Ding!
With milk sales in decline two decades ago, Got Milk? essentially held the fort for a long while against the pressing health issues of the product that centered on its fat content. Milk sales leveled off, but with new beverage competition cropping up every year, MilkPEP has decided to build a replacement campaign they’re calling Milk Life, with a new message centering on the 8 grams of protein content found in a 8-ounce serving. So rather than simply appeal to those of us with an ingrained love of milk, MilkPEP is heading down the education route as a change of pace. Moms and other nutrition-aware people are the new target. Considering the soft drink and beer industries are both battling steadily declining sales, MilkPEP has its work cut out. Hard to imagine Milk Life lasting as long as its predecessor, though.
Which brings me to my second question: Why no national milk brands? Borden and Hood are probably the closest, but aren’t really 50-state brands. There are national chicken brands, although beef and pork have had only minimal success with hot dogs or bacon. Bananas and oranges have managed to pull it off. Even Omaha Steaks is more of a retailer than a meat brand. But here are a few possibilities why a milk brand hasn’t emerged.
Milk doesn’t travel well. The industry is dominated by regional producers that are a reasonable distance from the cows that supply their product. Yet, no one brand has emerged from the pack to create a virtual national brand with co-manufacturing agreements. Coke and Pepsi both control a regional network of independent bottlers, but nothing similar has arisen for a milk brand.
Milk is a commodity and hard to brand. True enough, but look at all the brands in the bottled water industry. What could possibly be more of a commodity than that?
The dadgum government has regulated all the fun out of the bidness. Sell-by dates, limits on antibiotics, guidelines for pasteurization, limits on additives and price supports have taken away most or all of the possible branding propositions.
Or could it be that MilkPEP, while serving as a national co-op that gathers dollars for maximum reach and impact, actually has the unintended purpose of suppressing national brands, by both draining marketing capital and positioning the product as essentially brandless? Holy milk and cookies, Batman!
In honor of the new SAT, I select “all of the above” as being factors in the lack of any private national milk brands. (Considering my score on the old SAT, I have a 50 percent chance of being right.) And I wish the MilkPEP folks the best of luck with Milk Life. I just hope I can still remember to get milk.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.