The Got Milk PR Campaign

One of the most famous campaigns that came to be in the last 30 years is the Got Milk campaign from the 1990s. You may recognize it from its bold white font on a black background or from countless celebrities and models wearing the signature white milk mustache on magazines, billboards, and television commercials. What made this campaign about milk, a very bland, and widely regarded as a lunch drink for children, so successful to the point where people were calling the agency in charge wanting to be a part of this campaign and for it to be talked about in classrooms and in the marketing space until this day?

The United States government ramped up production of milk during World War II to send it to the troops abroad and was advertising it as a healthy drink to consume for healthy bones and teeth. Post World War II, and specifically in the 1980s there was a dramatic decline in demand for milk as the rise of sugary drinks available in the hands of consumers. No one wanted to drink milk, it was no longer a cool drink when Pepsi and Coca-Cola were much more fun, fizzy, and refreshing. With demand declining, dairy farmers in the United States didn’t reel back in production and were asking the government to do something about the surplus of milk sitting on shelves and in warehouses. 

The government tried to battle the soda giants advertising how cool milk can be, and how good for your body it is. This campaign wasn’t doing as well as they thought it would. 

In 1993, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners led a focus group. The participants were asked not to drink milk for a week prior to the study. The goal was to understand consumers’ milk habits. They found out that, as one participant put it, people only notice milk when they run out. Running out of milk was the selling point they were looking for.

This is where the slogan “got milk” came from. Asking people if they had milk caused them to think about milk and purchase it. Instead of the benefits of milk, they focused on the frustrations of not having milk.

The first commercial came out that year titled Who Shot Alexander Hamilton?/Aaron Burr where a radio host is asking the $10,000 question “who shot Alexander Hamilton”, an avid radio listener is eating a tasty-looking peanut butter and jelly sandwich when the radio hosts say they will be calling one random listener to answer the question. Our sandwich-making hero hears the phone ring and tries to answer the question with the correct answer of Aaron Burr but because his mouth is full of said sandwich, Aaron Burr comes out more as “Awon Buh!” The radio host can’t understand him and moves on to the next listener. The screen fades to black with the slogan “Got Milk” front and center.

The campaign went on to stop the decline of milk sales for the last 20 years. In 1994, 755 million gallons of milk were sold in California compared to  1993 where 740 million gallons were sold. The $23 million spent on advertising saved the dairy industry an expected $255 million.

Is milk the most popular drink today? No. Coca-Cola holds on to that title with an iron fist. However, creating buzz around your product can bring it back into the spotlight for just enough to create word-of-mouth buzz.