I saw a funny “tweet” today, and it speaks – in a roundabout way - to the debate over the need for a national promotion board for fruits and vegetables.

From Susan Crowell (scrowell on Twitter):  Journos, writers, p.r. folks repeat after me: "I will NOT use ripoff of 'got milk' in headline, story, ad copy or anything else ever again."

Ouch. Guilty as charged. In the April 6 issue of The Packer, I used the ripoff “Got Produce?” as the lead to my story on the first news of the dialogue about the national fruit and vegetable promotion board.

Oh, but I’m not the only one. In fact, Jim Prevor of the Perishable Pundit ripped off the “Got produce” tag for his blog and uses it as a standing graphic now for his running series of doubt-filled posts about the generic promotion idea.

I guess one could argue the very use of the “Got (insert desired word here)” is proof of a sort of the effectiveness of the “Got milk” campaign. Think of it, every time anybody uses/borrows/rips off a derivative of the “Got Milk” tagline; they are paying tribute to the pervasiveness of the campaign.

It might be relevant to the dialogue about the concept of the national promotion board for fruits and vegetables to consider the results  of the “Got Milk” campaign on milk consumption.

I found a link to a marketing case study about the campaign, which began in California.

From the overview:

In the mid-1990s, with the emergence of new juices, fruit drinks, iced teas, coffee drinks, bottled waters, and soft drinks, Californians were drinking less milk every year. Milk consumption per capita in California had dropped 6 percent between 1987 and 1992. Before 1993 most of California’s dairy advertising was funded either by the National Dairy Board (an organization of dairy farmers) or by the government-run California Milk Advisory Board.

Together the two spent an estimated $13 million to promote the statewide consumption of dairy products. The budget was meager compared with those of other beverage companies. Dairy farmers could not compete with titans such as PepsiCo, Inc., and the Coca-Cola Company. The latter spent $100 million in 1992 to advertise just one of its brands, Coca-Cola Classic. Realizing that the dairy industry needed outside assistance, the California Department of Food and Agriculture formed the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) in 1993. A few months later the CMPB released its ‘‘Got Milk?’’ campaign.

The ad agency Goodby, Silverstein and Partners (GS&P) created ‘‘Got Milk?’’ with the CMPB’s $23 million annual budget. Previous campaigns had been aimed at people who did not consume milk, but the agency’s research led it to target a different audience: people who were already milk drinkers. It concluded that ‘‘milk is usually consumed with something else, and that the only time people really think about milk is when they’ve run out of it.’’ The print, television, radio, and billboard campaign debuted on October 29, 1993, with a television spot titled ‘‘Aaron Burr.’’ The spot featured a history scholar who lost a radio trivia contest because his mouth was full of a peanut-butter sandwich and he was out of milk. ‘‘Got Milk?’’ continued for more than a decade and included television spots parodying steroid abuse in Major League Baseball and aliens that abducted cows for their milk.
Awards given to the first spot foretold the campaign’s eminent success. ‘‘Aaron Burr’’ garnered three Gold Clios, the Grand Prix Clio for Commercial of the Year, one Gold EFFIE, and one Silver Lion at the 1994 Cannes International Advertising Festival. One year after the campaign began, milk sales in California had increased 7 percent.

TK: What are the takeaways from the “Got Milk” campaign? I’m sure there abundant excuses why some might say this generic ad  campaign for milk isn’t a suitable comparison to the diverse world of fruits and vegetables. Yet I think the campaign’s inspired tagline was effective in the market place because it focused on consumers who were already milk drinkers and knew their need for it.

More from the case study:

Jeff Goodby, the cochairman of the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, helped win CMPB’s account by offering a compelling explanation for most consumers’ need for milk. He suggested building a campaign around his theory that the only time consumers really wanted milk was when they had run out of it. Goodby then challenged his agency’s creatives to develop stories of people who needed milk more than others

The guideline catalyzed a campaign titled ‘‘Got Milk?,’’ in which actors were featured in humorous predicaments that resulted from their need to wash down food with milk. ‘‘We’re going to jolt Californians out of their milk malaise,’’ Jeff Manning, executive director of the CMPB, announced in the news service Business Wire days before the campaign was released. ‘‘Our focus is on action, not just attitude change. Increasing milk consumption at home is our only objective

 TK: Imitation is the best form of flattery, and the case study notes that the “Got Milk” program went national in 1995. And journalists/pr types and ad copy writers have  been ripping it off at least since then.
 I gotta say again – and probably not for the last time – “Got produce?” If imitation is the best form of flattery, the fruit and vegetable industry needs to get serious about its support for generic promotion.