Marketing Miracles

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

After spending over 100 million dollars in marketing and advertising, the “got milk” mustache campaign failed to reverse the decline in sales and consumption of fluid, white milk. But the campaign was a resounding success in helping consumers become more aware of the ads. A literature review shows that over 90 percent of U.S. consumers are familiar with the “got milk?” slogan and can recall the campaign’s advertising. Yet, sales of milk kept falling.

Awareness of a product or a campaign is just table stakes and is never enough to drive behavior change or address macro socio-economic forces at play.

The decline of milk consumption can be traced to a substantial increase in other beverage consumption such as coffee, tea, RTDs, waters, energy drinks/nutraceuticals, juices, and even non-dairy (so-called) milks. Moreover, there are sources that have documented that the use of milk for the morning, at-home day part has declined because of a drop in cereal consumption as Americans jump on perceived healthier options such as Greek yogurt, protein bars, or oatmeal. We have heard anecdotally that as Americans continue to eat out more often, that this too has a negative impact on milk sales.

While the slogan, “got milk?” became an iconic expression and the image of milk mustaches drew widespread marketing praise, the campaign was retired this year.

In its place entered a more emotive and benefit-based approach: “Milk Life.” The new approach centered on the fact that most consumers are not aware that milk contains substantial amounts of protein, and especially for those looking for it in the morning day part. The shift from “got milk?” to “Milk Life” is one from questioning to a more declarative stamp on taking personal action and playing to the causal benefits of milk.

In marketing terms, causal benefits are those where it can be scientifically proven through rigorous longitudinal trials and observable data that there is direct causation between a product and a positive outcome, especially for a food item in a psychological or physiological manner.

For example, where milk was shown to help drive sales there was a campaign to market fluid, white milk to women with the causal benefit of weight loss. Independent, third party results showed that the calcium and nutrients in milk could help consumers lose more weight and burn more fat from drinking 24oz. of milk every 24 hours. An hourglass icon was used in the campaign superimposed over a woman’s figure as a way of strengthening the advertising and benefit claim.

In contrast to the milk mustache ads, this campaign was specific to the causal benefits of milk and targeted to a female audience. It was part of a larger effort around thought leadership marketing and establishing the positive health impact of milk. The new campaign around “Milk Life” seems to build on the product’s substantial contribution to health.

Trying to use causal arguments in marketing is really about thought leadership and brands using their thought leadership to establish themselves as a source of trusted information to define, build, protect, and advance their positioning in the marketplace.

Thought leadership is content marketing and involves carving out a space for a brand to show its thinking and solutions to larger problems that are germane to its products and consumers. The information is usually presented on websites, webinars, email campaigns, books, newsletters, and even in direct selling. Thought leadership is mostly about image and corporate reputation, and using it to help define the context within which a brand exists. For example, Visa is very active in promoting global financial literacy, Toyota TeenDrive365 helps parents and their kids to promote safe driving, and as the leader in small business payroll processing, Paychex is working on advancing the idea of entrepreneurialism.

There are many cases where a brand or even a category uses thought leadership and causal benefits to convey its value proposition. Sometimes this can be in a defensive play to starve off regulatory threats. There have been several recent stories about caffeine as America’s so-called drug of choice, but coffee has not been seriously targeted.

Taking a page from the wine industry, the NCAA and the SCAA have done a good job establishing the health benefits of coffee, such as reducing the risk of diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, providing an added dose of antioxidants, preventing tooth decay (watch the sugar!), stimulating brain and physical function, and even minimizing the chance of developing certain cancers. This is big stuff.

Yes, there is evidence on the other side of this that shows the risks associated with coffee. But on balance, it would appear that the pros outweigh the cons…always in moderation!

In fact, there is growing evidence of non-health benefits associated with coffee, such as its role, priority, and use, in global trade, local entrepreneurialism, city smart growth, community building, species preservation, cooking, and gardening. There are probably a thousand more than this, but you get the point.

The final point is this: Those Ethiopian goats munching on coffee berries thousands of years ago felt the impact and got it all started. Coffee has a powerful causal benefit psychologically, physiologically, and socio-economically. As a part of your own sales and product efforts, consider how the causal benefits of coffee can help promote your brand through thought leadership and content marketing.

Mike Dabadie is the founder of Heart+Mind Strategies, LLC, a research consultancy that continues to pioneer the use of personal-values insights and marketing. He can be reached at

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