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Deprivation to Triumph: Four Marketing Strategies of the Brilliant 'Got Milk' Campaign

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

Pouring milk in a glass and cookies
Got Milk Marketing Strategy

The History

For more than a thousand years milk has been a fascinating addition to our lifestyles because humans learned to effectively extract milk from animals and harness their nutritional benefits. The 1950s saw a rise in the importance of health and nutrition as civilizations were recuperating from World War II and rebuilding societies. It was a time when the landscape of dairy advertising followed the traditional approach and promoted milk as a nutritious drink. Commercials were focused on building a belief that drinking milk contributed to stronger bones and teeth, enhanced growth, and a healthier lifestyle. Advertisements were endorsed by doctors, nutritionists, or celebrities, lending credibility and trust.

The Villain

Advances in manufacturing and bottling technology, in the early 19th century, enabled carbonated drinks to expand beyond medicinal purposes and evolve into a wide range of flavors. Companies like Schweppes and Coca-Cola seized the opportunity and by the 1970s, propelled carbonated drinks into mainstream culture. With aggressive marketing campaigns and captivating advertisements, people associated drinking soda with youthfulness, leisure, and celebration. This mindset brought in a drastic reduction in milk sales. Soda makers were snatching the market share of milk and making consumers replace milk cans with soda cans. People were drinking less milk even when they were at home. By the 1990s, milk consumption had been declining for decades despite its known benefits.

The Rise

California milk processors decided to join forces to arrest that decline and go on a “battle” with their competition, sodas, and juice. In 1993, a nonprofit marketing board funded by California dairy processors and administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture was formed to counter falling sales of milk as Americans switched to soft drinks and other beverages. With the support of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, an advertising agency based in San Francisco they devised the “Got Milk?” strategy which is considered the most loved, imitated, and awarded campaign in marketing history.

The Game-Changing Strategy

While the older, traditional marketing campaigns had their merits, they didn't quite resonate with consumers on a personal level and got lost amid captivating soda ads. The "Got Milk?" marketing campaign connected with consumers’ everyday experiences. This deprivation strategy reminded consumers about the anxiety and disappointment that came when milk wasn’t available at crucial moments. The advertisements featured relatable scenarios where people found themselves milkless when they needed it the most. The emotional impact was undeniable. The "Got Milk?" campaign saw an impressive boost in milk sales, signaling a paradigm shift in the industry, and within a year, milk sales in California alone increased by a staggering 7%. The campaign transformed a simple glass of milk into a symbol of satisfaction and fulfillment.

The Analysis

As a communication strategist, I have analyzed the strategy and shared actionable communication and marketing strategies from the iconic "Got Milk?" campaign so that you can benefit in your personal and professional lives.

1. Scarcity:

Throughout history, our ancestors have faced numerous challenges in their survival relating to scarcity of resources such as food, water, and shelter. It triggered a sense of urgency and motivated our ancestors to secure and preserve those resources. As a result, our brains have an ingrained cognitive bias and a Fear of Running Out (FoRo) that motivates us to prioritize scarce resources.

Actionable Tip:

  • Use urgency-driven messaging in emails/posts like "Last Chance" or "Only X Spots Left'' to grab attention and motivate recipients to take action promptly.

  • Create visually appealing, time-driven images. For example, incorporating a camouflaged clock in your marketing image will spark action.

2. Exclusivity:

In a marketing context, presenting a product as scarce creates a perception of exclusivity and value. Apart from tapping into our evolutionary instincts and triggering the desire to acquire the product, it can stimulate a heightened desire to have the product, leading to increased engagement and action.

Actionable Tip:

  • Use phrases that instill a sense of exclusivity like “Limited Edition”

  • Offering personalized services/recommendations based on consumers’ specific preferences highlights exclusivity and higher value.

3. Connectivity:

The campaign strategically evoked emotions that resonated with consumers' everyday experiences. Whether it was a cookie without milk or a cereal bowl left empty, the ads played on nostalgia and the comfort associated with milk as a companion to favorite foods. Triggering positive emotions and memories of customers fosters a strong emotional connection with consumers.

Actionable Tip:

  • Use storytelling techniques to evoke emotions and memories. For example, "Remember the feeling when a website fails to load even after 10 seconds..."

  • Address specific pain points when communicating. For example, “Are you experiencing difficulty in keeping track of stock levels?”

3. Memorability:

The simple yet powerful tagline, "Got Milk?" became ingrained in popular culture. With just 2 words, the message was precise, catchy, and relatable. It allowed consumers to participate in the campaign by using the phrase in everyday conversations. This contributed to the campaign's longevity and sustained impact.

Actionable Tip:

  • Use minimal words to communicate your distinctive features or benefits.

  • Use questions or a witty tone when crafting your taglines.

The iconic campaign's communication strategy tapped into fundamental psychological aspects, engaging consumers on an emotional level and shaping their perceptions of milk. It gained international recognition and inspired marketing campaigns globally. Similarly, you can leverage game-changing strategies and create a phenomenal impact in your professional lives. Your thoughtful communication will not only influence positive behaviors but also establish a strong brand presence in the minds of your consumers.

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