retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

I have two words for the creators of the “Got Milk?” slogan who thought a cheeky campaign encouraging men to buy milk to temper their shrewish mates’ PMS symptoms was funny.

Get real.

There’s nothing humorous about pre-menstrual syndrome, and an ad portraying women at “that time of the month” as irrational witches tormenting their hapless male partners is just plain sexist. And stupid.

And certainly wouldn’t sell any milk.

This “C’mon, what were these guys thinking” MNB column comes courtesy of the California Milk Processor Board and its longtime San Francisco advertising agency, Goodby, Silverstein and Partners. The two brought us the original, and now iconic, “Got milk?” campaign back in 1993.

The new “Milk can help reduce the symptoms of PMS” campaign was launched July 11 with a link to a microsite,, featuring “humorous” tips to help the harried male. These included pre-approved apologies “for not reading between the right lines” and “for the things I did or didn’t do.”

Within hours, the social media firestorm erupted. Angry posts demanding the campaign be yanked lit up blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

Which comes as no surprise, of course, since a similar “Milk to the Rescue” campaign sparked criticism in 2005, before social networking gave consumer reaction lightning quick speed and power. What I do find stunning is the Milk Board and its agency went ahead with this controversial campaign knowing full well it would “ignite some social media discussion and conversation.”

Some? Again, c’mon.

“It certainly wasn’t our intent to offend people,” Steve James, executive director of the Milk Board, told the New York Times last week. “We certainly misjudged the heat generated by the people who thought we stepped over the line.”

Kind of like misjudging the heat of a California wildfire, based on the angry, outraged comments I’ve read online. Even found the ads “sexist.”

So they ditched the original ads and micro-site a month early for, which acknowledges the media maelstrom and apologizes to those who were offended while noting others found it “funny and educational.” The revised site provides links to blogs and media articles both extolling and damning the original campaign.

Oh, yes, and also includes a link to the study that got this started, which found that calcium can help reduce PMS symptoms in some women.

Of course the cynics among us might note that the controversy catapulted this campaign into a major new media and mainstream national media story, far beyond the California Milk Processor Board realm, just as the original “Got milk?” campaign captivated the nation. And we might question whether this was intentional.

The bottom line here? To paraphrase a great English comic actor on his deathbed, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

It is that rare comedian who can turn this kind of stuff into comedic gold. Larry David, over the past two weeks on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” managed to get laughs out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the subject of battered women. But that’s the exception, not the rule.

Certain subjects simply aren’t comedic material in marketing campaigns. Particularly for a product as mainstream as milk and a women’s health issue as serious as PMS. And now that social networking is a game-changer in these uproars, the California Milk Processor board would have been wiser to stick with the milk mustache and leave the comedy to Larry David.

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