That Ivory Orbit

The Authenticity of ‘Got Milk’

Back in 1993, the California Milk Processor Board needed a fix. The problem? Improve milk sales. Dairy was in a slump. Focus groups conducted by Jon Steel — a partner at advertising firm Goodby, Silverstein & Partners — painted a fevered picture of an emotional connection to milk in its absence. Testimonials gave pitch and tenor to this portraiture. Milk was a ‘thing’ and if it wasn’t sitting in the fridge, was breakfast (never mind cereal) even an option?

Steel walked his findings back to the advertising group, reporting that the problem was “about running out of milk”. Jeff Goodby, another partner, casually mentioned

Why don’t we call it ‘Got Milk’ with a question mark?

That’s the part of the story people focus on — that simple, concentrated beam of inspiration wherein two words define a campaign and that campaign scrawls an indelible scar across the collective cultural face. ‘What was in his head when inspiration struck,’ is the cat call of countless advertising students. Or at least, those who were around in 1993 or studied the campaign’s impact in higher ed. It’s all romance and theater.

Yet the invisible part of the story is that milk is not essential to our diet. Calcium, sure. But calcium comes in numerous shapes and sizes, you can get it (as you could in 1993) as a supplement. So the advertising firm couldn’t exactly claim calcium essential nutrition like vitamins A or B.

Instead, the bright folks at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners decided to hit you in the heart. Everyone can relate to the classic milk mustache you had as a kid after taking a swig in the morning, before social niceties interfered with the great, big morning gulp. ‘Got Milk’ takes us back to the simple days of childhood, illustrated by this celebrity on this month, that celebrity the next. It gently tugs on your childhood memories while altering to the celebrity du jour, showing just how malleable a brand can be when it wants to be, when it needs to be.

Almost three decades later, ‘Got Milk’ still defines what an authentic approach to brand is while cat calling from the red seats, ‘you have to be flexible, you have to be supple’.

Most importantly, you have to be honest.