It’s been almost a year since the iconic “Got Milk” mustache campaign was replaced with the new direction of “Milk Life,” touting the everyday benefits of milk. Gone are the iconic milk mustaches that teens in the late 90s hung on their bedroom walls. I was always a big fan of Dennis Rodman (collect all three hair colors!) and Tiffany Amber-Thiessen (my late-bloomer self dreamed of one day looking like her in a white bathing suit). Sticky tacked next to Clinique and Calvin Klein ads were all the celebs with prominent white milky upper lips post a big gulp of the USDA recommended 3 glasses of milk daily. If the stars were drinking milk, then we would to.
Or at least that’s what the US Dairy industry thought and while the ad campaign is famous, won an agency a lot of awards and had a cult following (you had to actually find the ads without the internet!), it actually did very little to get people to drink more milk. In fact, there has been a steady decline of milk consumption since its peak in 1970 (21.8 gallons per year) versus 14.8 gallons per year in 2012 (via the Department of Agriculture).
Guess who’s coming out on top? Apparently the almond. Since 2011, almond milk sales have increased by 79% and the Dairy Industry is not happy. So today, MilkPEP (Milk Processor Education Program) is launching a social media (of course) campaign to fight back. According to the CEO of MilkPEP, “Get Real is just the beginning of a more aggressive approach and one part of our long-term strategy to safeguard milk’s reputation against anti-milk messages.”
Using the assumed online channels, Milk Life is owning hashtags like #GetReal and #MilkTruth to debunk previous anti-milk sentiments, specifically one study out of the UK last year that “drinking lots of milk could lead to earlier deaths and higher incidents of fractures.” Along with a website that clearly took a lesson on how to make a hipster logo in 6 steps, they are stating the simple facts that milk is real and almond milk is not real because of all the added ingredients. (You can so easily just make your own!) Milk is just a few ingredients where alternative options have multiple additives and aren’t the “real thing.”
To be completely honest and I’m sure this does not come as a surprise, I do not drink milk. I do eat cheese and yogurt although I am particular where I buy it from. My mother nursed me until I was two years-old and then if there was a need for any milk-type product, we used EdenSoy unsweetened soy milk. I can still see the beige carton with illustrated fields on the front sitting in our refrigerator for pretty much my entire childhood where I wasn’t raised with the mentality that I “needed” to drink milk. This of course, as I always say, was the late 80s and 90s before the options for alternative milk become more common, which also was another thing added to the list of why I was the “weird” one at the lunch table or during dinner at a friend’s house. Because I did not drink milk growing up, I still do not drink milk, do not have a taste for it and do not plan to introduce milk into my child’s diet (minus my own of course, fingers crossed!). I do use it occasionally for cooking (mac & cheese) or will use cream and in France you clearly can’t avoid dairy consumption. But I do not agree with the USDA that we “need” 3 glasses of milk per day to “do a body good.” A glass? Sure. Go ahead, but 3?! There are a lot of other ways to get calcium (hello leafy greens!) and protein.
Something sort of similar happened in France two years ago. The government realized that bread consumption was down from one baguette a day in 1970 to just a half a baguette per day. While there are different reasons for this (meals are becoming faster, there are more “on-the-go” restaurants than traditional places) instead of harping on why the French should eat more bread, they decided to associate the baguette with a term of endearment, or cou cou. As The New York Times reported, “The campaign’s Web site, www.tuasprislepain.fr, explains that “France is a ‘civilization of bread’ and this food is part of the traditional meal ‘à la française.” Of course! Hit the heart-strings. Being French means eating a baguette every day! And to be honest, given America’s history, isn’t one of the common associations with America milk? I don’t drink it and still think of the dairy industry as one of the backbones of the country. Come on, America is a bunch of farmers; strapping young midwestern men (I have this vision of them shirtless in overalls) growing up strong on diets of corn, milk and beef. Why did this campaign go so heavy on facts instead of emotion? Americans love getting into the ‘Merican spirit!
I was curious to see what other fact-driven campaigns the MilkPEP has put out there to increase consumption rates and this is where it got interesting.
-In 2002, they started to market to African Americans because that sector was having more kids now versus Caucasians, who historically had been bigger milk drinkers.
-With little success, they then created a “Happy Farm Video” similar to what Chipotle did this year with their award-winning Scarecrow video depicting a sad scarecrow who is overtaken by big industry in his quest for more sustainable farming. While this is not true for every dairy farm, there are a lot of big suppliers out there where “happy farm” could not be anything further from the truth.
-In 2005, the MilkPEP decided to tell women that milk was a new cure for PMS but of course studies for that came from the fact that it is calcium in milk that helps with PMS, not actually milk.
-In 2007, MilkPEP decided to promote chocolate milk as a post workout drink. What’s wrong with some water and natural peanut or almond butter on whole-wheat toast? Or an egg? Then in desperation, they went for the claim of all claims, milk is equated with weight loss but with this stance actually had no research to prove it.
-In 2012, they launched “The Breakfast Project” targeting Hispanics encouraging them to “enjoy” breakfast more with milk.
Sounds like MilkPEP doesn’t know what they want to say or to who. So now in 2015 it’s time to attack the product that’s gained market share, almond milk.
First off, they hate that almond milk (and all non-dairy options) are allowed to be called milk. I get that. Call it almond juice, water, beverage whatever, it won’t keep people from drinking it. Although it is ironic that the rational behind this complaint to the FDA came from the National Milk Producer Federation’s CEO & President Jerry Kozak who said, “The FDA has allowed the meaning of “milk” to be watered down to the point where many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn.” You can laugh about that one as you picture industrial dairy cow barns in your head.
Plus their little #MilkTruth hashtag is backfiring, as all those that are passionate about animal rights, eating clean, vegan and vegetarian and those that are pro-organic are pushing back with their own social counter-campaign to expose what the big dairy industry really is. Check out the Twitter feed: anti-milk is doing pretty well. Those social-media managers have a long night ahead of them.
Which leads me to my next point around the campaign and really the issue at hand. Did anyone actually examine WHY milk sales have been decreasing since 1970? For those that have abandoned milk, we all have our own personal reasons. But aside from those that are actually lactose intolerant, I doubt that people are drinking less milk because of the real ingredients of protein and calcium. We all know that protein and calcium are good. No one is abandoning nutrients. And we also know it’s not because all of a sudden so many people are moving into vegan diets or else we would be hearing from the meat industry. I wonder if the Dairy Industry actually took a look at the social conversation going around with the people who are “bad-mouthing” the beverage in the first place.
Many have jumped the milk-boat because of the lack of transparency about everything else that is put into it. Unless you buy milk from your farmer down the street where you can go and see exactly what is going on, and the majority of us do not have access to this, we all have pretty much zero idea what goes on behind the scenes. How are the cows treated? What do they eat? Are they eating grass or corn? What antibiotics and hormones are they given to ward off illness brought upon by inhumane conditions or to produce more milk faster? Give us these facts. That’s what we think isn’t real. Show us the farms, the cows, the “barns.” Show us the grass they eat. Those things are real. But they won’t and it is for these reasons that people aren’t drinking as much milk.
Milk doesn’t have an image problem but the dairy industry does.
And until they fix it no little healthy fact-toids disguised with hipster fonts and icons will change a thing.
*Please note there are a lot of wonderful independent dairy farmers who produce milk ethically, organically, etc. This article is referring to “big” dairy and the lack of transparency and honesty within the system.