Everybody Knows ‘Got Milk?’ — Does that Make it Successful?

Nov 27, 2018

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the iconic Got Milk? marketing campaign. It’s one of the most recognizable ad runs in history, featuring celebrities from Austin Powers to Heidi Klum.

It was a runaway success by every measure – except the one that actually matters.

It didn’t drive people to drink more milk.

How Got Milk? came to be

The impetus for the campaign came in 1993. Jeff Manning, then executive director of the California Milk Processor Board, wanted to halt a decline in liquid dairy sales. He hired agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners to help reposition the household staple in the mind of American consumers. The now famous slogan almost didn’t make the cut. The creative team feared it was “lazy, not to mention grammatically incorrect.”

They ultimately went with the line, and it was popular from the get-go.

First came a TV commercial (titled “Aaron Burr” and directed by a young Michael Bay). Soon after, the slogan was licensed to the National Milk Processor Education Program. The iconic Got Milk? print ads were born. In the mid-90s, more than 90 percent of Americans recognized Got Milk?

The dirty little secret behind Got Milk? and marketing

That first commercial won a slew of advertising awards. It has since been named one of the best commercials of all time. The overall campaign has also won countless awards and even had awards named after it.

In terms of popularity, prestige, market penetration and so many other measures, Got Milk? remains a celebrated success. Yet after 20 years of ad buys, milk sales suffered. People were drinking less milk than they were at the start of the campaign.

Is it advertising … or marketing?

It underscores a key difference between marketing and advertising that’s increasingly relevant today. With ads, you’re paying for eyeballs. Most ad metrics are based counting and categorizing those eyeballs.

Marketing, on the other hand, is less about exposure and more about motivating change. Seth Godin (of course) sums it up well in This is Marketing: “Marketers make things better by making change happen.”

Long story short: Good campaigns can win awards and gain pop culture notoriety, but truly effective marketing that drives results (and sales) has to make people think, feel or do something different.

Liked this? Please share!

New logo for Long Story Short, the Braithwaite Communications weekly newsletter.

If you like this article, you'll love our newsletter.

We'll send you a great true story with a useful business lesson every Monday.

Thanks! You'll receive a welcome email soon. (It might go to your Junk, Clutter or Promotions folder.)