Got Good Marketing?

2/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

Branding Guru: Milk’s Message Can Translate to Fruit, Veggies

HERSHEY, Pa. — So what was the secret of the successful “Got Milk?” campaign?

Milk deprivation.

“That your life turned upside down without milk with certain things,” said Jeff Manning, former executive director of the California Milk Marketing Board and an instrumental figure in the creation of the iconic milk branding campaign.

Speaking at Tuesday’s Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Hershey, Manning talked about the success of the Got Milk? campaign and how fruit and vegetable producers can relate it to their businesses.

The Got Milk? campaign, he said, was started as a way to rebrand milk from a product that was not only “good for you” but also something you truly needed to enjoy that cookie or bowl of cereal — giving people a feeling of what he calls “milk deprivation.”

“This was a huge turning point for the milk industry,” he said.

By forming partnerships and negotiating licensing agreements, Got Milk? started showing up on everything from McDonald’s Happy Meals to Oreo cookies.

Even soccer balls were rolled out with the brand to give an extra bounce to “Got Milk?” marketing in the Hispanic community.

Ironically, the first partnership was with Barbie dolls. As Manning explains it, he got a call one day from a marketing executive at Mattel, which owns the Barbie brand.

Manning said the company was interested in creating a dairy-themed Barbie doll and heard of the Got Milk? promotion. As a result, he said, a special edition Barbie was released with, of course, Got Milk? emblazoned on the package.

That led Manning and the California Milk Marketing Board to develop partnerships with other companies, including promotions with the Girl Scouts of America and Sesame Street.

Besides the fact that the Got Milk? strategy to link milk to other products worked and was backed by a $22 million annual budget, it was the innate simplicity of the promotion that made it stick, Manning said.

“Find that strategy, either as a brand or category that you own,” he said. “And it has to be true.”

Consider the pork industry and “The Other White Meat.” Manning said it was an attempt to market pork as an alternative to chicken, another white meat that was seen as healthier and more nutritious than beef, a red meat, which has had its own series of catchy promotions over the years.

Manning said the promotion led people to give pork a second look, which increased consumption.

Of course, not every product or industry can be marketed like milk or for that matter, pork.

Manning said the best approach really depends on the product that’s being marketed. If it’s something perishable, he said, companies will focus on getting the product off the shelf as quickly as possible.

Another approach is to market according to the season, such as hot dogs for the Fourth of July.

More and more, Manning said, people are looking for things that add value to their lives instead of just looking at the price. In this sense, partnerships can be even more important.

“I don’t believe we can succeed by ourselves any longer,” he said.

And you may not need a lot of money to do it effectively. Take the case of a marketing campaign that Manning’s current consulting company, Got Manning?, developed for the tart cherry industry.

Manning said the purpose was to brand cherries as a “superfruit” alternative to blueberries and cranberries with a modest $1 million budget.

Partnerships with companies like Ocean Spray, which used cherries in its cranberry juice mix, were crucial to getting people to think about consuming tart cherries, he said. But this campaign also relied on the Internet and social media to give people ideas on how to use tart cherries in recipes and to communicate the fruit’s nutritional value.

“We helped transform it,” Manning said. “We spent $1 million a year through public relations, the Internet and social media.”

Getting an effective marketing strategy for some industries can be challenging. A group of apple growers attending the presentation tried to pick Manning’s brain afterward about an effective marketing campaign for apples, an industry that in many ways has competed with itself, with Washington state growers marketing their apples against smaller producing states and vice versa.

Manning said integrating an industry to focus on a single message — such as the milk industry and Got Milk? — can be the most effective way to achieve success.

Of course, not everyone wants to sell their products on a national scale. Some prefer focusing on certain segments, such as locally grown.

But in either case, Manning said, the key is to innovate.

“Do one thing really well,” he said. “We did Got Milk? really well.”

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