Dairy Industry Propaganda: Tale of Two Mega-Campaigns
By Michele Simon
Originally published on Vegan.com, April 1999.

Unless you have been away on another planet for the past few years, you couldn't help but notice the two ubiquitous advertising campaigns being waged by the cow's milk industry. The "Got Milk" and the "Milk Mustache" campaigns have been recognized as hugely popular and successful efforts by the dairy industry to increase what had been lagging milk sales. In an attempt to ignore the annoying ads of sad looking girl scouts and Ron Howard's apple pie mug, you may not realize the origins of these two campaigns, the huge sums of money being spent, and the role of the federal government in promoting this unhealthy product.

For starters, milk is a $19 billion industry! Given these stakes, no wonder big business is concerned about the dropping of milk consumption, especially among children. Twenty percent of beverages consumed by children between ages one and five is soda. To counter this trend, the dairy-farmer group Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) launched the "Got Milk" campaign. Former DMI ad efforts include, "Milk. It does a body good." DMI's latest campaign is aimed at exploiting young children's' desire to combine milk with fun foods like cookies. Heading up the DMI effort is Jeanne Sowa, a registered dietitian, formerly of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and coordinator of the "Beef. It's what's for dinner" campaign. With DMI, she controls $106 million in marketing spending per year, including $42.4 million in advertising for milk and another $18 million for media on cheese. What is a registered dietitian doing in charge of $106 million to promote a product that causes a wide array of health problems?

In contrast to the "Got Milk" campaign aimed at children, the "Milk Mustache" campaign is aimed at "reinforcing the drink's nutritional value with young mothers and twenty-something buyers." The perfect one-two punch. Dairy producers, consisting mainly of farmers put their money into the Got Milk campaign; and processors consisting of dairy companies that buy from the producers to make fluid milk, focused on the Milk Mustache campaign. These two efforts combined poured $216 million into national advertising in 1996, not including regional and local advertising efforts. What's more, the forces behind the Milk Mustache campaign involves inappropriate government participation in product promotion.

The Government's Role in Promotion
According to Advertising Age magazine, the Milk Mustache campaign began in 1996 with a budget of $110 million. The marketing mission in the first year was to attack four misconceptions about milk: that it's fat-laden and unhealthy (never mind the truth); that it's old-fashioned; that it's only for kids (cow kids perhaps); and that it's only good as an accompaniment for high-fat foods like cookies (better with salad?). The budget increased to $190 million in 1998. The force behind the campaign is the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board (Fluid Board) which according a government report, was created with the objective of strengthening the position of the dairy industry in the marketplace. The Fluid Board is administered by the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which runs these types of programs for dairy, as well as other so-called commodity items. While USDA does incur some administrative costs, these are supposed to be reimbursed by industry. The promotional activity consists of generic advertising and a smaller amount of the assessed money is used to fund "research and educational activities." According to a 1996 report by the USDA Economic Research Service, generic advertising raised fluid milk sales an estimated 1.0 billion pounds, or 4.4 percent, during September 1993-August 1994. Thus, the program is quite successful.

Despite funds being reimbursed, the fact that the same government agency charged with educating Americans about healthy eating is also promoting industry interests is an obvious conflict of interest and explains why the American public is not being told the entire truth.
What is the federal government doing promoting what is a commercial product like any other? Just substitute the word Coke for milk in the above paragraph to get the full impact. Further, can you imagine Secretary of Human Health and Services (HHS), Donna Shalala doing ads for Coke or McDonalds? And yet log onto the web site, www.whymilk.com, and hers is the very first "mustache" you see. Worse yet, her ads are running in major magazines, such as Health, with a circulation of over 1 million readers. While some consumer groups have questioned this blatant government promotion, an HHS spokesperson defended the ad, saying no money was accepted and no ethics rules were breached. How comforting. And what a coup for a huge industry to get the highest ranking government health official to endorse its product for free. Oh yeah - President Clinton has also done a milk mustache ad, but he's being picked on enough lately.

The Brainwashing of America's Youth
In its latest marketing extravaganza, the Fluid Board has teamed up with Seventeen magazine to create a Milk Mustache contest. The "Mad About Milk" photo contest invited Seventeen readers to send in a picture of themselves sporting a milk mustache along with a creative caption to explain why they drink milk. Over 3,000 teens applied. Here is how it is described in Business Wire: "The contest is a fun way to create a buzz with teens across the country who collect milk mustache ads," says Kurt Graetzer, executive director of the Milk Processor Education Program. "Teens consider the ads in the campaign to be hip, and at the same time, the copy relays health messages educating them about the teen calcium crisis and the importance of getting calcium at an early age." This is a sad commentary indeed on how much the brainwashing has taken hold and how marketers can convince themselves they are involved in a "feel-good education" effort.

On the Dairy Horizon: Combined Forces of Evil
The two groups, DMI and the Fluid Board will craft a single advertising program beginning in 1999, thus creating one of the largest commodity marketing campaigns ever, worth a whopping $190 million. We may have already noticed the combination of the Got Milk and Milk Mustache campaigns in magazine ads. The consolidation marks the teaming of unlikely milk bedfellows: producers and processors. These two groups often sit on opposite sides of the fence, sparring over the price paid for milk. In fact, this strained relationship is what resulted in the two separate campaigns in the first place. But the stakes are high enough to put past differences aside. According to DMI's Chief Executive Officer, Tom Gallagher: "We are in this game to increase fluid milk sales. The only way we can measurably do that is to pool resources to achieve maximum impact."

The plan for 1999 will include Milk Mustache television commercials, new single-serve containers for busy people in the go, and the presence of milk on beverage lists in fine restaurants! New products are on the horizon as well. The most aggressive marketer is Dean Foods Co, which is rolling out its "Milk Chug" in half-pint, pint and quart plastic bottles. Bland milk carton labels are being jazzed up and skim milk can now be labeled, "fat free." New products include chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and orange flavored milks. Milk Marketing Inc. has begun selling the "Moo Kooler." Pespi-Cola Co. is testing "Smooth Moos" and Hershey is also testing some products. According to some industry types, there is a lot of potential in the flavored milk industry. Just great. Let's add artificial flavoring and tons of sugar to an already unhealthy product.

One can only shiver at the thought of new dairy advertising campaigns and the further exploitation of kids and teens into the next millennium. And the federal government will be right there along side, in partnership with an industry whose primary motivation is profit, not the health of Americans.