Since 1993, when the California Milk Processor Board first asked advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners to make ads that would get Californians to drink milk again, “Got Milk?” has become one of the advertising campaigns most ingrained in the American psyche.
For years, “Got Milk?” ads featured innocuous photos of milk mustachioed celebrities including Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Superman, and Mary Kate and Ashley.
Starting Monday, a new campaign hopes to encourage milk consumption through a less neutral angle: Milk as a cure for PMS, and for the men who have to deal with women during “that time of the month.”
We examine what works in the campaign, and what doesn’t:
The campaign, called “Everything I do is wrong,” rests on studies that show calcium in dairy milk helps reduce the symptoms of PMS, and plays on the idea that men don’t know how to handle women as they approach their period.
The campaign has a micro site (with a .org address to emphasize they are doing a “public service”), billboards, posters, Facebook and Twitter pages, and a presence on NPR. The campaign will also include booths at events around California and PMS-themed comedy skits.
Some people think it’s funny. Ads about PMS aimed at men certainly generate a buzz, and the images of men looking helpless while bearing cartons of milk elicit laughter.
The campaign hearkens back to a funny 2005 television commercial called “Milk to the Rescue,” in which men bought up all the milk they could find in stores while a Barry White song played in the background, all to help their women combat PMS.
On the new “Everything I Do is Wrong” Web site, men can use a “Puppy Dog-Eye-zer” to turn their face into a “face that’s hard to stay mad at,” and an “I’m sorry” video generator with pictures of puppy dogs and teddy bears to send to a woman if they’ve messed up.
“We think the humor creates the surprise and surprise is always good when you want people to be aware of the message and benefit,” Steve James, executive director of the California Milk Processor Board, told Marketing Daily. “We have heard women respond to this with comments like, ‘I have got to send this poster to my husband.’”
What doesn’t work
It comes across as sexist. Really sexist.
As a woman, my hackles went up immediately when I saw tag lines like “I’m sorry I listened to what you said and not what you meant,” “I’m sorry for the thing or things I did or didn’t do,” and “I apologize for not reading between the right lines.”
Those kind of lines play on the ancient stereotype that a woman, for several days each month, becomes a wholly irrational and crazed being hopelessly overtaken by PMS. The campaign ignores the physical symptoms women have to endure and focuses on the “abuse” men have to put up with by making fun of women’s emotional responses.
“Be aware of questions about weight,” the site warns. “Red Alert! Everything is wrong and it’s all your fault.”
James admitted to the New York Times that there is “a little trepidation” about the campaign, because talking about PMS can be a “third rail” for marketers.
When Jillian York of the Electronic Freedom Foundation posted the above photo to her Google+ profile with the question, “Sexist or not?” most commenters said it was sexist. Scott Madin, a software engineer, responded to Jillian’s question with:
“Uh. I'm not sure how there's even a question there. Definitely sexist. The only way it even constitutes a ‘joke’ is if the viewer implicitly accepts the idea that women are inherently irrational and men have no choice but to meekly accept it.”
Another commenter, Shahed Amanullah, wrote: “I’m surprised such a campaign made it all the way through production without having someone put the brakes on it. There must have been 100 people in the pipeline who allowed this to go through.”
York agreed. “It’s such an easy hit for them, using an obvious stereotype we’re all aware of,” she said. “But this ad is not appealing to women, and pretty offensive to both women and men. It’s shocking.”
Even if the commercial succeeds in winning over men but offends women in the process, are women really going to be buying any more milk?