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
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
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.