I’m sure we’ve all seen the “got milk?” phrase on a meme at some point but just accepted it as a piece of humour without even questioning its origins. Gen Z’s and millennials are forgiven, this was before your time.
Looking a little deeper into its history, the phrase was created by an American advertising agency named Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, and almost didn’t make it into the advertising campaign because they thought it was lazy and grammatically incorrect. Thanks to a little creative genius and the flexible English language, the phrase gave the California Milk Processor and campaign the traction that it needed.
The “got milk?” campaign was developed for the California Milk Processor Board to promote the consumption of milk. It was launched in 1993 with the famous Aaron Burr commercial. The phrase was later licensed for use by milk farmers and processors, and it is reported that milk sales in California drastically increased as a result of it.
A typical ad would feature people eating some sort of sticky treat or the other, with no milk to wash it down. These were done in a wide variety of scenarios, with one featuring a pilot that puts his plane into a nosedive in order to get some milk from a flight attendants cart.
The end of the commercial would see its character looking into the camera sadly with the word got milk? Boldly displayed. What’s most amazing about this campaign is that it worked just as well in print media too, often with an image of a treat that’s been bitten, with the infamous caption.
The phrase was licensed to the National Milk Processor Education Program in 1995 for use in the celebrity print ads which have featured the likes of Britney Spears, Rihanna and Beyonce, to name a few. This was combined with the milk moustache campaign that featured cartoon characters sporting a milk moustache with the slogan “where’s your moustache?”.
The “got milk?” campaign has had its fair share of challenges with ads being removed, but it also enjoyed the success that comes with creative genius. Anita Santiago Advertising recreated the ads to appeal to a Hispanic audience between 1994 and 2005. According to the campaign website, the campaign has over 90% awareness in the US, and the slogan has been licensed on a range of goods including kitchenware, Barbie dolls, and Hot Wheels. The slogan has also been parodied in typical style, with many groups featuring look-alikes. In a percentage tongue in cheek response, the California Milk Processor Board created posters highlighting their Top 100 parodies called “Got Ripped off?”.
The voice narrating the slogan belongs to Danny Delk, although others have been used from time to time. The slogan was however discontinued in 2014 and replaced with a new tagline called Milk Life. In spite of this, the California Milk Processor Board still continues to use it and the campaign was revived in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.