Milk Lobby Launches New Desperate Campaign Against Falling Sales

Why have milk sales fallen for decades? In addition to the public’s growing awareness of the dairy industry’s cruelty and pollution, many people have lactose intolerance, milk allergies and a taste aversion to milk. Add to that the wide availability of nondairy milks without dairy’s cholesterol and calories—soy, rice, oat, coconut, pea, hemp, flax, quinoa, garbanzo bean, sesame seed, tapioca, potato and at least seven nut milks—and it is easy to see why the milk lobby is running scared.

Milk marketers have tried everything to reverse falling sales. Long before the ubiquitous Got Milk mustache ads, they conducted a “Milk: It Does a Body Good” campaign which targeted young women with the message that milk would prevent osteoporosis in later life. The problem was: osteoporosis was not on the fear radar of teens, tweens and young women.

Then, taking a cue from the cartoon character Joe Camel who R.J. Reynolds used to market Camelcigarettes (until the American Medical Association objected), milk marketers redesigned milk bottles into hand-friendly, “fun” bottles called the Chug that didn’t look like something your mother told you to drink.

Next, milk marketers tried positioning milk as a cure for PMS. TV ads showed bumbling boyfriends and husbands rushing to the store for milk to detoxify their stricken women. The campaign did not work and was even seen as sexist.

Undaunted, milk marketers alighted on the idea of milk as a diet food “Studies suggest that the nutrients in milk can play an important role in weight loss,” said milk ads that kicked off the Great American Weight Loss Challenge in 2006. There was even a related school program called “Healthiest Student Bodies,” which recognized twenty-five schools around the country for providing “an environment that encourages healthy choices for students.”

The milk as a diet food campaign had many names: Milk Your Diet, Body By Milk, Think About Your Drink, Why Milk?, 24oz/24hours, 3-A-Day (servings, that is) and of course Got Milk? Milk was even positioned as a health promoter at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“Got Milk” mustache campaign with celebrities appeared in youth-oriented magazines like Sports Illustrated for Kids, Spin, Electronic Gaming, CosmoGirl, Blender and Seventeen to hopefully get ‘em young. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) shipped posters of mustache wearing actors, sports figures, musicians and models to 60,000 US elementary schools and 45,000 middle and high schools and students were told if they visited, they could win an iPod, a Fender guitar and their schools could qualify for sports gear, classroom supplies and musical instruments.

There was also in-class selling, using the type of peer-to-peer pressure that has worked so well for Pharma with key opinion leading doctors. Students at three California high schools got a chance to create their own Got Milk campaigns aimed at their peers in a seven-week advertising and marketing class. Winners got $2000, an all-expense-paid trip to San Francisco to present their ideas to the milk campaign’s main ad agency at the time, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and to milk officials and the chance to have their campaign used in future milk marketing. Whee!

Milk marketers also rolled out White Gold and the Calcium Twins, a spoof-y musical group rocking out about milk’s benefits to hair, teeth, nails and biceps on YouTube and social media. There was an animated cartoon called the “Moo Factory” depicting happy cows, chickens, ducks and pigs while milk cartons move by on a conveyor belt and a helium balloon appeared reading “Tell Your Friends.”

Now milk marketers are at it again with a youth-oriented campaign called “Gonna Need Milk.” Tapping into the “fat acceptance” movement, overweight and unhealthy-looking models are now featured—milk marketers apparently scrapping the previous milk-as-diet-food spin.

Will the new campaign work? No according to the web site Hustle in an article called “Gen Z just doesn’t like milk, OK?” Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2012, dislike the taste of milk, “worry about the dairy industry’s impact on climate change” and realize “Big Milk” is a “big liar” and that “milk isn’t as crucial for bones as previously thought,” says Hustle.

No kidding. And one look at the new campaign images should establish that milk does a body No good.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).