Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Got good marketing? Branding guru: Milk's message can boost fruit, veggies
BY CHRIS TORRES, Lancaster Farming
HERSHEY -- So what was the secret of the successful "Got Milk?" campaign?
"That your life turned upside down without milk with certain things," said Jeff Manning.
Manning is the former executive director of the California Milk Processor Board and was instrumental in the 1993 creation of the iconic milk branding campaign.
Speaking at last week's Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention here, Manning talked about the success of the campaign and how fruit and vegetable producers can learn from it.
The Got Milk? campaign, he said, was started to rebrand milk from merely "good for you" to something that's also truly needed with that cookie or bowl of cereal.
The idea was to give people a feeling of what Manning 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 board to develop partnerships with other companies, including promotions with the Girl Scouts of America and Sesame Street.
Besides being able to link milk to other products and having a $22 million annual budget, the innate simplicity of the promotion helped 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 its "The Other White Meat" campaign.
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.
The campaign, Manning said, led people to give pork a second look, which increased consumption.
Of course, not every product or industry can be marketed like milk or pork.
Manning, who now has his own consulting business, Got Manning?, based in Orinda, Calif., said the best approach varies according to the product.
If it's something perishable, he said, companies will focus on getting the product off the shelf as quickly as possible.
If it's something seasonal, companies can tie the promotion to that time of year, 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.
You may not need a lot of money to do it effectively, according to Manning.
Take the case of the tart cherry industry's campaign, which Manning helped develop.
Manning said the idea, backed with a modest $1 million budget, was to brand cherries as a "superfruit" alternative to blueberries and cranberries.
Partnerships with companies like Ocean Spray, which use 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.
Complicating the issue is that the apple industry 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's 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 and focus.
"Do one thing really well," he said. "We did Got Milk? really well."
For more agricultural news from Lancaster Farming, go to LancasterFarming.com.