The Tale of the Rejected Ad

THE JOURNAL RECORD, August 6, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Tale of the Rejected Ad


SAN FRANCISCO (NYT) -- Consider turning on your television and seeing this:

A wholesome, all-American family sits down to dinner. But look -- happy, smiling Mom has yellow, rotting teeth! Dad's smile is riddled with cavernous gaps.A shot of the fridge reveals massive bottles of bright blue soda, the only foodstuff it contains. Just one family member, a sweet-faced boy, displays a lustrous smile. But before he takes a sip of soda, he pulls a set of dentures from his mouth and sets them on the table.

Got milk?

Well, not exactly. What you've got instead is a commercial that will never see the light of day.

The spot was one of several ad concepts developed earlier this year by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the award-winning San Francisco ad agency that has been churning out "Got Milk?" ads for six years.

The "Wholesome Family" spot represented a significant departure from the now-familiar "Got Milk?" formula, in which a man stuffs his mouth full of sweets and then discovers that he is out of milk. Instead, it conveys a much more serious -- and bold -- message: that soda pop, Americans' favorite beverage, is bad for peoples' health.

Focus group participants found the script for "Wholesome Family" both entertaining and convincing. Moreover, the nutrition message seemed particularly potent because research has shown that most consumers who choose to increase their milk consumption do so for health reasons.

Nevertheless, the "Wholesome Family" script currently resides in Goodby, Silverstein's circular file, along with rejects on topics like mackerel smoothies and lactose-intolerant weight lifters. The story of how "Wholesome Family" died illustrates the hurdles milk marketers face as they attempt to take on the well-financed soft drink industry.

Effective milk advertising is important because the dairy industry is in a bind. Per-capita milk consumption in the United States has been dropping for at least 30 years.

According to research by Strategic Information Group, milk accounted for just 13.9 percent of nonalcoholic packaged beverages consumed in the United States in 1996, down from 16.8 percent in 1983.

Soft drinks, meanwhile, jumped from 21.7 percent to 29.6 percent in 1996, the most recent year for which data were available.

The trend was similar in California until the drop-off stabilized in 1994, one year after the launch of the "Got Milk?" advertising campaign here. Sales data indicate, however, that milk drinking is beginning to slip again.

Why are people drinking less milk? In a Goodby, Silverstein poll conducted last November, the No. 1 reason cited was "a preference for other beverages." (Rising prices, something marketers have no control over, was second.)

Sodamakers appear to be the biggest beneficiaries, although bottled water and other beverages are believed to be taking some of milk's market share.

Script makes the rounds

Only a small percentage of "Got Milk?" ad ideas ever make it onto the air. All TV commercials must pass through several hoops before going into production, but regulated commodities face extra hurdles.

First, the milk scripts are vetted by the 10 directors of the California Fluid Milk Processor Advisory Board. (The $25 million in annual "Got Milk?" ad spending comes from a milk levy paid by California processors. …

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