Got Milk? What Associations Can Learn from the Popular Ad Campaign

This year marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most prolific ad campaigns in the history of American beverages: Got Milk? Former director of the California Milk Processor Board, Jeff Manning, shares some lessons learned from the campaign that can be incorporated by associations.

If you’ve ever been frustrated after pouring yourself a bowl of cereal only to find the milk carton empty, then you can probably appreciate the Got Milk? campaign.

Originally created in 1993 by the California Milk Processor Board to increase milk consumption in the state, Got Milk? has grown into one of the most recognized ad campaigns of the last two decades—ripped off by everyone from waste removal companies (1-800-Got-Junk) to pest professionals (Got Ants?).

Believe the brand is going to be there forever, and treat it as if it’s going to be there forever, not a transitory thing.

As the campaign marks its 20th anniversary this year, former CMPB executive director Jeff Manning shares some tricks of the trade that associations and nonprofits can incorporate into their own marketing.

Treasure your brand. From the beginning, Got Milk? creators were brand focused, Manning said. They wanted to create a long-lasting campaign and add value to it over the years to keep it going—like Crest toothpaste or Ford Motor Company, Manning added.

To do this requires a goal-driven attitude. Use quantitative tools to measure performance, and don’t be complacent, Manning said. “Believe the brand is going to be there forever, and treat it as if it’s going to be there forever, not a transitory thing.”

Part of adding value to your brand also requires developing unique value propositions—which in the case of Got Milk? is the fact that it’s a pain in the butt to run out of milk.

This is a relatively new tactic for associations, said Suzanne Carawan, chief marketing officer at HighRoad Solution.

“Associations haven’t largely had to develop their own story and tell a compelling story that differentiates themselves from other things on the market because they haven’t necessarily been in a competitive landscape historically,” she said.

One way to set your association apart from everybody else is to offer products and services that personally serve your members. “People know that they can get networking and education somewhere else,” Carawan told Associations Now. “So, you have to break through that noise and give them something that is going to uniquely benefit them personally, so they don’t say, ‘This is something I want to do,’ but rather, ‘This is something I have to do.’”

Be courageous. Manning also advised association marketers not to treat their jobs as tenured, lifetime positions. “Don’t take it for granted that [the brand] is just going to get through another year,” he said.

In other words, take intelligent risks. “We took risks in running a campaign that doesn’t show the product,” he added. “We don’t show milk because the point we were trying to make is the deprivation of milk is so terrible that you should go out and buy some. That was, I think, an intelligent risk.”

He said he believes the folks at Got Milk? are still investing in the brand and trying to come up with new creative ways to add value.

“They’re trying to take intelligent risk with Got Milk? and not be complacent and not just assume the job and campaign are always going to be there,” he said. “You can’t afford to be complacent, and yet I think associations and nonprofits can sometimes get complacent.”

For associations, an intelligent risk might involve changing the delivery times for email, for example. Carawan said she worked with an association that switched its mentality and started delivering email when it was convenient for members rather than staff.

This user-defined shift is changing the way corporate marketers operate, and should start changing the way association marketers think.

“You start realizing, ‘Wow, these people are opening [email] at night on their iPads, on Saturday mornings while they’re waiting for soccer practice, while they’re at the grocery store, while they’re waiting in the security line to travel,’” Carawan said. “And then you start asking, ‘Are we delivering email in a timeframe that’s based on when [members] want to look at it? Or are we sending emails still based on when it is convenient for us, the staff, on Tuesday at 11:30?’”

Take any intelligent marketing risks lately? Let us know in the comments.

A scene from the original "Got Milk" ad, directed by a then-unknown Michael Bay in 1993. (YouTube screenshot)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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